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Jalifornia 
gional 


PHANTOM    LOVER. 


A   FANTASTIC  STORY. 


BY 


VERNON    LEE, 

AUTHOR  OF  "  EUPHORION,"  "BALDWIN,"  "THE  COUNTESS 
OF  ALBANY,"  ETC. 


BOSTON: 

ROBERTS    BROTHERS. 
1886. 


tfje  game 


EUPHORION  :  Studies  of  the  Antique  and  the  Medi- 
aeval in  the  Renaissance.  2  vols.  Demy  Svo.  Cloth. 
$4.00. 

BALDWIN  :  Being  Dialogues  on  Views  and  Aspirations. 
i2mo.  Cloth.  $2.00. 

THE   COUNTESS   OF   ALBANY.     Famous  Women 

Series.     i6mo.    Cloth.    $1.00. 

ROBERTS   BROTHERS, 

Publishers,  Boston. 


TO 

COUNT  PETEK  BOUTOUKLINE, 

AT  TAGANTCHA, 
GOVERNMENT  OF  KIEW,  RUSSIA. 


MY  DEAR  BOUTOUKLLNE, —  Do  you  remem- 
ber my  telling  you,  one  afternoon  that  you  sat 
upon  the  hearthstool  at  Florence,  the  story  of 
Mrs.  Oke  of  Okehurst? 

You  thought  it  a  fantastic  tale,  you  lover 
of  fantastic  things,  and  urged  me  to  write  it 
out  at  once,  although  I  protested  that,  in 
such  matters,  to  write  is  to  exorcise,  to  dispel 
the  charm;  and  that  printers'  ink  chases 
away  the  ghosts  that  may  pleasantly  haunt 
us  as  efficaciously  as  gallons  of  holy  water. 
1 


ii  DEDICATION. 

But  if,  as  I  suspect,  you  will  now  put  down 
any  charm  that  story  may  have  possessed  to 
the  way  in  which  we  had  been  working  our- 
selves up,  that  firelit  evening,  with  all  man- 
ner  of  fantastic  stuff — if,  as  I  fear,  the  story 
of  Mrs.  Oke  of  Okehurst  will  strike  you  as 
stale  and  unprofitable — the  sight  of  this  lit- 
tle book  will  serve  at  least  to  remind  you, 
in  the  middle  of  your  Russian  summer,  that 
there  is  such  a  season  as  winter,  such  a  place 
as  Florence,  and  such  a  person  as  your  friend 

VERNON  LEE. 


A  PHANTOM   LOYEE. 


THAT  sketch  up  there  with  the  boy's  cap  ? 
Yes;  that's  the  same  woman.  I  wonder 
whether  you  could  guess  who  she  was.  A 
singular  being, is  she  not?  The  most  mar- 
vellous creature,  quite,  that  I  have  ever  met : 
a  wonderful  elegance,  exotic,  far-fetched,  poig- 
nant;  an  artificial,  perverse  sort  of  grace  and 
research  in  every  outline  and  movement  and 
arrangement  of  head  and  neck,  and  hands 
and  fingers.  Here  are  a  lot  of  pencil  sketches 
I  made  while  I  was  preparing  to  paint  her 
portrait.  Yes;  there's  nothing  but  her  in 
the  whole  sketch-book.  Mere  scratches,  but 
they  may  give  some  idea  of  her  marvellous 


4  A  PHANTOM  LOVER. 

fantastic  kind  of  grace.  Here  she  is  leaning 
over  the  staircase,  and  here  sitting  in  the 
swing.  Here  she  is  walking  quickly  out  of 
the  room.  That's  her  head.  You  see  she 
isn't  really  handsome;  her  forehead  is  too 
big,  and  her  nose  too  short.  This  gives  no 
idea  of  her.  It  was  altogether  a  question  of 
movement.  Look  at  the  strange  cheeks, 
hollow  and  rather  flat ;  well,  when  she  smiled, 
she  had  most  marvellous  dimples  here. 
There  was  something  exquisite  and  uncanny 
about  it.  Yes ;  I  began  the  picture,  but  it 
was  never  finished.  I  did  the  husband  first ; 
I  wonder  who  has  his  likeness  now?  Help 
me  to  move  these  pictures  away  from  the 
wall.  Thanks.  This  is  her  portrait ;  a  huge 
wreck.  I  don't  suppose  you  can  make  much 
of  it;  it  is  merely  blocked  in,  and  seems 
quite  mad.  You  see  my  idea  was  to  make 
her  leaning  against  a  wall — there  was  one 
hung  with  yellow  that  seemed  almost  brown 
— so  as  to  bring  out  the  silhouette. 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  .        5 

It  was  very  singular  I  should  have  chosen 
that  particular  wall.     It  does  look  rather  in- 
sane in  this  condition,  but  I  like  it ;  it  has 
something  of  her.     I  would  frame  it  and 
hang  it  up,  only  people  would  ask  questions. 
Yes;  you  have  guessed  quite  right — it  is 
Mrs.  Oke  of  Okehurst.     I  forgot  you  had  re- 
lations in  that  part  of  the  country ;  besides,  I 
suppose  the  newspapers  were  full  of  it  at  the 
time.     You  didn't  know  that  it  all  took  place 
under  my  eyes  ?     I  can  scarcely  believe  now 
that  it  did :  it  all  seems  so  distant,  vivid  but 
unreal,  like  a  thing  of  my  own  invention.   It 
really    was    much    stranger   than   any    one 
guessed.     People  could  no  more  understand 
it  than  they  could  understand  her.     I  doubt 
whether  any  one  ever  understood  Alice  Oke 
besides  myself.     You  mustn't  think  me  un- 
feeling.    She  was  a  marvellous,  weird,  exqui- 
site creature,  but  one  couldn't  feel  sorry  for 
her.     I  felt  much  sorrier  for  the  wretched 
creature  of  a  husband.     It  seemed  such  an 


6  A  PHANTOM  LOVER. 

appropriate  end  for  her;  I  fancy  she  would 
have  liked  it  could  she  have  known.  Ah,  I 
shall  never  have  another  chance  of  painting 
such  a  portrait  as  I  wanted.  She  seemed 
sent  me  from  heaven  or  the  other  place. 
You  have  never  heard  the  story  in  detail? 
Well,  I  don't  usually  mention  it,  because  peo- 
ple are  so  brutally  stupid  or  sentimental;  but 
I'll  tell  it  you.  Let  me  see.  It's  too  dark  to 
paint  any  more  to-day,  so  I  can  tell  it  you 
now.  Wait,  I  must  turn  her  face  to  the  wall. 
Ah,  she  was  a  marvellous  creature ! 


I. 

You  remember,  three  years  ago,  my  telling 
you  I  had  let  myself  in  for  painting  a  couple 
of  Kentish  squireen  ?  I  really  could  not  un- 
derstand what  had  possessed  me  to  say  yes 
to  that  man.  A  friend  of  mine  had  brought 
him  one  day  to  my  studio — Mr.  Oke  of  Oke- 
hurst,  that  was  the  name  on  his  card.  He 
was  a  very  tall,  very  well  made,  very  good- 
looking  young  man,  with  a  beautiful  fair 
complexion,  beautiful  fair  moustache,  and 
beautifully  fitting  clothes;  absolutely  like  a 
hundred  other  young  men  you  can  see  any 
day  in  the  park,  and  absolutely  uninterest- 
ing from  the  crown  of  his  head  to  the  tip  of 
his  boots.  Mr.  Oke,  who  had  been  a  lieu- 
tenant in  the  Guards  before  his  marriage,  was 
evidently  extremely  uncomfortable  on  find- 


8  A  PHANTOM  LOVER. 

ing  himself  in  a  studio.  He  felt  misgivings 
about  a  man  who  could  wear  a  velvet  coat 
in  town,  but  at  the  same  time  he  was  nerv- 
ously anxious  not  to  treat  me  in  the  very 
least  like  a  tradesman.  He  walked  round 
my  place,  looked  at  everything  with  the  most 
scrupulous  attention,  stammered  out  a  few 
complimentary  phrases,  and  then,  looking  at 
his  friend  for  assistance,  tried  to  come  to  the 
point,  but  failed.  The  point,  which  the  friend 
kindly  explained,  was  that  Mr.  Oke  was  de- 
sirous to  know  whether  my  engagements 
would  allow  of  my  painting  him  and  his  wife, 
and  what  my  terms  would  be.  The  poor 
man  blushed  perfectly  crimson  during  this 
explanation,  as  if  he  had  come  with  the  most 
improper  proposal ;  and  I  noticed — the  only 
interesting  thing  about  him  —  a  very  odd 
nervous  frown  between  his  eyebrows,  a  per- 
fect double  gash — a  thing  that  usually  means 
something  abnormal;  a  mad-doctor  of  my 
acquaintance  calls  it  the  maniac  frown. 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  9 

"When  I  had  answered,  he  suddenly  burst 
out  into  rather  confused  explanations,  his 
wife — Mrs.  Oke — had  seen  some  of  my — 
pictures — paintings — portraits — at  the — the 
— what  d'you  call  it  ? — Academy.  She  had 
—in  short,  they  had  made  a  very  great  im- 
pression upon  her.  Mrs.  Oke  had  a  great 
taste  for  art ;  she  was,  in  short,  extremely  de- 
sirous of  having  her  portrait  and  his  painted 
by  me,  et  cetera. 

"  My  wife,"  he  suddenly  added, "  is  a  re- 
markable woman.  I  don't  know  whether 
you  will  think  her  handsome — she  isn't  ex- 
actly, you  kno\v.  But  she's  awfully  strange," 
and  Mr.  Oke  of  Okehurst  gave  a  little  sigh 
and  frowned  that  curious  frown,  as  if  so  long 
a  speech  and  so  decided  an  expression  of 
opinion  had  cost  him  a  great  deal. 

It  was  a  rather  unfortunate  moment  in  rny 
career.  A  very  influential  sitter  of  mine — you 
remember  the  fat  lady  with  the  crimson  cur- 
tain behind  her  ? — had  come  to  the  conclu- 


10  A  PHANTOM   LOVER. 

sion  or  been  persuaded  that  I  had  painted 
her  old  and  vulgar,  which,  in  fact,  she  was. 
Her  whole  clique  had  turned  against  me,  the 
newspapers  had  taken  up  the  matter,  and  for 
the  moment  I  was  considered  as  a  painter  to 
whose  brushes  no  woman  would  trust  her 
reputation.  Things  were  going  badly.  So 
I  snapped  but  too  gladly  at  Mr.  Oke's  offer, 
and  settled  to  go  down  to  Okehurst  at  the 
end  of  a  fortnight.  But  the  door  had  scarce- 
ly closed  upon  my  future  sitter  when  I  be- 
gan to  regret  my  rashness;  and  my  disgust 
at  the  thought  of  wasting  a  whole  summer 
upon  the  portrait  of  a  totally  uninteresting 
Kentish  squire,  and  his  doubtless  equally 
uninteresting  wife,  grew  greater  and  greater 
as  the  time  for  execution  approached.  I  re- 
member so  well  the  frightful  temper  in  which 
I  got  into  the  train  for  Kent,  and  the  even 
more  frightful  temper  in  which  I  got  out  of 
it  at  the  little  station  nearest  to  Okehurst. 
It  was  pouring  floods.  I  felt  a  comfortable 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  11 

fury  at  the  thought  that  my  canvases  would 
get  nicely  wetted  before  Mr.  Oke's  coachman 
had  packed  them  on  the  top  of  the  wagonette. 
It  was  just  what  served  me  right  for  coming 
to  this  confounded  place  to  paint  these  con- 
founded people.  We  drove  off  in  the  steady 
downpour.  The  roads  were  a  mass  of  yel- 
low mud ;  the  endless,  flat  grazing-grounds 
under  the  oak-trees,  after  having  been  burned 
to  cinders  in  a  long  drought,  were  turned 
into  a  hideous  brown  sop;  the  country 
seemed  intolerably  monotonous. 

My  spirits  sank  lower  and  lower.  I  be- 
gan to  meditate  upon  the  modern  Gothic 
country  -  house,  with  the  usual  amount  of 
Morris  furniture,  Liberty  rugs,  and  Mudie 
novels,  to  which  I  was  doubtless  being 
taken.  My  fancy  pictured  very  vividly  the 
five  or  six  little  Okes — that  man  certainly 
must  have  at  least  five  children — the  aunts 
and  sisters-in-law  and  cousins;  the  eternal 
routine  of  afternoon  tea  and  lawn  -  tennis ; 


12  A  PHANTOM  LOVER. 

above  all,  it  pictured  Mrs.  Oke,  the  bouncing, 
well-informed,  model  housekeeper,  election- 
eering, charity  -  organizing  young  woman, 
whom  such  an  individual  as  Mr.  Oke  would 
regard  in  the  light  of  a  remarkable  woman. 
And  my  spirit  sank  within  me,  and  I  cursed 
my  avarice  in  accepting  the  commission,  my 
spiritlessness  in  not  throwing  it  over  while 
yet  there  was  time.  We  had  meanwhile 
driven  into  a  large  park,  or  rather  a  long 
succession  of  grazing-grounds,  dotted  about 
with  large  oaks,  under  which  the  sheep 
were  huddled  together  for  shelter  from  the 
rain.  In  the  distance,  blurred  by  the  sheets 
of  rain,  was  a  line  of  low  hills,  with  a  jagged 
fringe  of  bluish  firs  and  a  solitary  windmill. 
It  must  be  a  good  mile  and  a  half  since  we 
had  passed  a  house,  and  there  was  none  to 
be  seen  in  the  distance,  nothing  but  the 
undulation  of  sere  grass,  sopped  brown  be- 
neath the  huge,  blackish  oak-trees,  and 
whence  arose,  from  all  sides,  a  vague  discon- 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  13 

solate  bleating.  At  last  the  road  made  a  sud- 
den bend,  and  disclosed  what  was  evidently 
the  home  of  my  sitter.  It  was  not  what  I 
had  expected.  In  a  dip  in  the  ground  a 
large  red -brick  house,  with  the  rounded 
gables  and  high  chimney-stacks  of  the  time 
of  James  I. — a  forlorn,  vast  place,  set  in  the 
midst  of  the  pasture-land,  with  no  trace  of 
garden  before  it,  and  only  a  few  large  trees 
indicating  the  possibility  of  one  to  the  back; 
no  lawn  either,  but  on  the  other  side  of  the 
sandy  dip,  which  suggested  a  filled-up  moat, 
a  huge  oak,  short,  hollow,  with  wreathing, 
blasted,  black  branches,  upon  which  only  a 
handful  of  leaves  shook  in  the  rain.  It  was 
not  at  all  what  I  had  pictured  to  myself  the 
home  of  Mr.  Oke  of  Okehurst. 

My  host  received  me  in  the  hall,  a  large 
place,  panelled  and  carved,  hung  round  with 
portraits  up  to  its  curious  ceiling — vaulted 
and  ribbed  like  the  inside  of  a  ship's  hull. 
He  looked  even  more  blond  and  pink-and- 


14  A  PHANTOM  LOVER. 

white,  more  absolutely  mediocre,  in  his 
tweed  suit ;  and  also,  I  thought,  even  more 
good-natured  and  duller.  He  took  me  into 
his  study,  a  room  hung  round  with  whips 
and  fishing-tackle  in  place  of  books,  while 
my  things  were  being  carried  upstairs.  It 
was  very  damp,  and  a  fire  was  smouldering. 
He  gave  the  embers  a  nervous  kick  with  his 
foot,  and  said,  as  he  offered  me  a  cigar — 

"  You  must  excuse  my  not  introducing 
you  at  once  to  Mrs.  Oke.  My  wife  —  in 
short,  I  believe  my  wife  is  asleep." 

"  Is  Mrs.  Oke  unwell  ?"  I  asked,  a  sudden 
hope  flashing  across  me  that  I  might  be  off 
the  whole  matter. 

"Oh,  no,  Alice  is  quite  well;  at  least, 
quite  as  well  as  she  usually  is.  My  wife," 
he  added,  after  a  minute,  and  in  a  very  de- 
cided tone,  "  does  not  enjoy  very  good  health 
— a  nervous  constitution.  Oh,  no,  not  at  all 
ill,  nothing  at  all  serious,  you  know.  Only 
nervous,  the  doctors  say;  mustn't  be  wor- 


15 

ried  or  excited,  the  doctors  say;    requires 
lots  of  repose — that  sort  of  thing." 

There  was  a  dead  pause.  This  man  de- 
pressed me,  I  knew  not  why.  He  had  a 
listless,  puzzled  look,  very  much  out  of  keep- 
ing with  his  evident  admirable  health  and 
strength. 

"  I  suppose  you  are  a  great  sportsman  ?" 
I  asked  from  sheer  despair,  nodding  in  the 
direction  of  the  whips  and  guns  and  fishing- 
rods. 

"Oh,  no,  not  now.  I  was  once.  I  have 
given  up  all  that,"  he  answered,  standing 
with  his  back  to  the  fire,  and  staring  at  the 
polar  bear  beneath  his  feet.  "  I — I  have  no 
time  for  all  that  now,"  he  added,  as  if  an  ex- 
planation were  due.  "A  married  man — 
you  know.  Would  you  like  to  come  up  to 
your  rooms?"  he  suddenly  interrupted  him- 
self. "  I  have  had  one  arranged  for  you  to 
paint  in.  My  wife  said  you  would  prefer  a 
north  light.  If  that  one  doesn't  suit,  you 
can  have  your  choice  of  any  other." 


16  A  PHANTOM  LOVER 

I  followed  him  out  of  the  study,  through 
the  vast  entrance-hall.  In  less  than  a  min- 
ute I  was  no  longer  thinking  of  Mr.  and 
Mrs.  Oke  and  the  boredom  of  doing  their 
likeness  —  I  was  simply  overcome  by  the 
beauty  of  this  house,  which  I  had  pictured 
modern  and  Philistine.  It  was,  without  ex- 
ception, the  most  perfect  example  of  an  old 
English  manor-house  that  I  had  ever  seen; 
the  most  magnificent  intrinsically,  and  the 
most  admirably  preserved.  Out  of  the 
huge  hall,  with  its  immense  fireplace  of  deli- 
cately carved  and  inlaid  gray  and  black 
stone,  and  its  rows  of  family  portraits,  reach- 
ing from  the  wainscoting  to  the  oaken  ceil- 
ing, vaulted  and  ribbed  like  a  ship's  hull, 
opened  the  wide,  flat-stepped  staircase,  the 
parapet  surmounted  at  intervals  by  heraldic 
monsters,  the  wall  covered  with  oak  carv- 
ings of  coats -of -arms,  leafage,  and  little 
mythological  scenes,  painted  a  faded  red- 
and-blue,  and  picked  out  with  tarnished 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER  17 

gold,  which  harmonized  with  the  tarnished 
blue-and-gold  of  the  stamped  leather  that 
reached  to  the  oak  cornice,  again  delicately 
tinted  and  gilded.  The  beautifully  damas- 
cened suits  of  court  armor  looked,  without 
being  at  all  rusty,  as  if  no  modern  hand  had 
ever  touched  them;  the  very  rugs  under 
foot  were  of  sixteenth-century  Persian  make ; 
the  only  things  of  to-day  were  the  big 
bunches  of  flowers  and  ferns,  arranged  in 
majolica  dishes  upon  the  landings.  Every- 
thing was  perfectly  silent;  only  from  be- 
low came  the  chimes,  silvery  like  an  Italian 
palace  fountain,  of  an  old-fashioned  clock. 

It   seemed   to  me   that  I  was  being  led 
through  the  palace  of  the  Sleeping  Beauty. 

"  What  a  magnificent  house !"  I  ex- 
claimed, as  I  followed  my  host  through  a 
long  corridor,  also  hung  with  leather,  wain- 
scoted with  carvings,  and  furnished  with  big 
wedding  coffers,  and  chairs  that  looked  as  if 
they  came  out  of  some  Vandyck  portrait. 
2 


18  A  PHANTOM  LOVER. 

In  my  mind  was  the  strong  impression  that 
all  this  was  natural,  spontaneous  —  that  it 
had  about  it  nothing  of  the  picturesqueness 
which  swell  studios  have  taught  to  rich  and 
aesthetic  houses.  Mr.  Oke  misunderstood 
me. 

"  It  is  a  nice  old  place,"  he  said, "  but  it's 
too  large  for  us.  You  see,  my  wife's  health 
does  not  allow  of  our  having  many  guests ; 
and  there  are  no  children." 

I  thought  I  noticed  a  vague  complaint  in 
his  voice ;  and  he  evidently  was  afraid  there 
might  have  seemed  something  of  the  kind, 
for  he  added,  immediately — 

"I  don't  care  for  children  one  jackstraw, 
you  know,  myself;  can't  understand  how 
any  one  can,  for  my  part." 

If  ever  a  man  went  out  of  his  way  to  tell 
a  lie,  I  said  to  myself,  Mr.  Oke  of  Okehurst 
was  doing  so  at  the  present  moment. 

When  he  had  left  me  in  one  of  the  two 
enormous  rooms  that  were  allotted  to  me,  I 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  19 

threw  myself  into  an  arm-chair  and  tried  to 
focus  the  extraordinary  imaginative  impres- 
sion which  this  house  had  given  me. 

I  am  very  susceptible  to  such  impressions; 
and  besides  the  sort  of  spasm  of  imaginative 
interest  sometimes  given  to  me  by  certain 
rare  and  eccentric  personalities,  I  know  noth- 
ing more  subduing  than  the  charm,  quieter 
and  less  analytic,  of  any  sort  of  complete 
and  out-of-the-common-run  sort  of  house. 
To  sit  in  a  room  like  the  one  I  was  sitting 
in,  with  the  figures  of  the  tapestry  glimmer- 
ing gray  and  lilac  and  purple  in  the  twi- 
light, the  great  bed,  columned  and  curtained, 
looming  in  the  middle,  and  the  embers  red- 
dening beneath  the  overhanging  mantel- 
piece of  inlaid  Italian  stonework,  a  vague 
scent  of  rose-leaves  and  spices,  put  into  the 
china  bowls  by  the  hands  of  ladies  long 
since  dead,  filling  the  room,  while  the  clock 
down-stairs  sent  up,  every  now  and  then,  its 
faint,  silvery  tune  of  forgotten  days ; — to  do 


20  A  PHANTOM  LOVER. 

this  is  a  special  kind  of  voluptuousness,  pe- 
culiar and  complex  and  indescribable,  like 
the  half  -  drunkenness  of  opium  or  hashish, 
and  which,  to  be  conveyed  to  others  in  any 
sense  as  I  feel  it,  would  require  a  genius, 
subtle  and  heady,  like  that  of  Baudelaire. 

After  I  had  dressed  for  dinner,  I  resumed 
my  place  in  the  arm-chair  and  resumed  also 
my  reverie,  letting  all  these  impressions  of 
the  past — which  seemed  faded  like  the  fig- 
ures in  the  arras,  but  still  warm  like  the  em- 
bers in  the  fireplace,  still  sweet  and  subtle 
like  the  perfume  of  the  dead  rose-leaves  and 
broken  spices  in  the  china  bowls — permeate 
me  and  go  to  my  head.  Of  Oke  and  Oke's 
wife  I  did  not  think ;  I  seemed  quite  alone, 
isolated  from  the  world,  separated  from  it  in 
this  exotic  enjoyment. 

Gradually  the  embers  grew  paler ;  the  fig- 
ures in  the  tapestry  more  shadowy ;  the  col- 
umned and  curtained  bed  loomed  out  vaguer; 
the  room  seemed  to  fill  with  grayness ;  and 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER  21 

my  eyes  wandered  to  the  mullioned  bow- 
window,  beyond  whose  panes,  between  whose 
heavy  stonework,  stretched  a  grayish-brown 
expanse  of  sere  and  sodden  park  grass,  dotted 
with  big  oaks,  while  far  off,  behind  a  jagged 
fringe  of  dark  Scotch  firs,  the  wet  sky  was 
suffused  with  the  blood-red  of  the  sunset. 
Between  the  falling  of  the  raindrops  from 
the  ivy  outside  there  came,  fainter  or  sharper, 
the  recurring  bleating  of  the  lambs  separated 
from  their  mothers,  a  forlorn,  quavering,  eerie 
little  cry. 

I  started  up  at  a  sudden  rap  at  my  door. 

"Haven't  you  heard  the  gong  for  dinner?" 
asked  Mr.  Oke's  voice. 

I  had  completely  forgotten  his  existence. 


II. 

I  FEEL  that  I  cannot  possibly  reconstruct 
my  earliest  impressions  of  Mrs.  Oke.  My  rec- 
ollection of  them  would  be  entirely  colored 
by  my  subsequent  knowledge  of  her ;  whence 
I  conclude  that  I  could  not  at  first  have  ex- 
perienced the  strange  interest  and  admira- 
tion which  that  extraordinary  woman  very 
soon  excited  in  me.  Interest  and  admiration, 
be  it  well  understood,  of  a  very  unusual  kind, 
as  she  was  herself  a  very  unusual  kind  of 
woman ;  and  I,  if  you  choose,  am  a  rather 
unusual  kind  of  man.  But  I  can  explain  that 
better  anon. 

This  much  is  certain,  that  I  must  have 
been  immeasurably  surprised  at  finding  my 
hostess  and  future  sitter  so  completely  un- 
like everything  I  had  anticipated.  Or,  no — 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  23 

now  I  come  to  think  of  it,  I  scarcely  felt  sur- 
prised at  all;  or  if  I  did,  that  shock  of  sur- 
prise could  have  lasted  but  an  infinitesimal 
part  of  a  minute.  The  fact  is,  that  having  once 
seen  Alice  Oke  in  the  reality,  it  was  quite 
impossible  to  remember  that  one  could  have 
fancied  her  at  all  different :  there  was  some- 
thing so  complete,  so  completely  unlike  every 
one  else,  in  her  personality,  that  she  seemed 
always  to  have  been  present  in  one's  con- 
sciousness, although  present,  perhaps,  as  an 
enigma. 

Let  me  try  and  give  you  some  notion  of 
her :  not  that  first  impression,  whatever  it 
may  have  been,  but  the  absolute  reality  of 
her  as  I  gradually  learned  to  see  it.  To  be- 
gin with,  I  must  repeat  and  reiterate  over 
and  over  again,  that  she  was,  beyond  all  com- 
parison, the  most  graceful  and  exquisite  wom- 
an I  have  ever  seen,  but  with  a  grace  and 
an  exquisiteness  that  had  nothing  to  do  with 
any  preconceived  notion  or  previous  experi- 


24  A  PHANTOM  LOVER 

ence  of  what  goes  by  these  names ;  grace  and 
exquisiteness  recognized  at  once  as  perfect, 
but  which  were  seen  in  her  for  the  first  and 
probably,  I  do  believe,  for  the  last  time.  It 
is  conceivable,  is  it  not,  that  once  in  a  thou- 
sand years  there  may  arise  a  combination  of 
lines,  a  system  of  movements,  an  outline,  a 
gesture,  which  is  new,  unprecedented,  and 
yet  hits  off  exactly  our  desires  for  beauty  and 
rareness  ?  She  was  very  tall ;  and  I  suppose 
people  would  have  called  her  thin.  I  don't 
know,  for  I  never  thought  about  her  as  a 
body — bones,  flesh,  that  sort  of  thing — but 
merely  as  a  wonderful  series  of  lines,  and  a 
wonderful  strangeness  of  personality.  Tall 
and  slender,  certainly,  and  with  not  one  item 
of  what  makes  up  our  notion  of  a  well-built 
woman.  She  was  as  straight — I  mean  she 
had  as  little  of  what  people  call  figure — as  a 
bamboo;  her  shoulders  were  a  trifle  high, 
and  she  had  a  decided  stoop ;  her  arms  and 
her  shoulders  she  never  once  wore  uncovered. 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  85 

But  this  bamboo  figure  of  hers  had  a  supple- 
ness and  a  stateliness,  a  play  of  outline  with 
every  step  she  took,  that  I  can't  compare  to 
anything  else ;  there  was  in  it  something  of 
the  peacock  and  something  also  of  the  stag ; 
but  above  all,  it  was  her  own.  I  wish  I  could 
describe  her.  I  wish,  alas ! — I  wish,  I  wish, 
I  have  wished  a  hundred  thousand  times — I 
could  paint  her,  as  I  see  her  now  if  I  shut 
my  eyes — even  if  it  were  only  a  silhouette. 
There !  I  see  her  so  plainly,  walking  slowly 
up  and  down  a  room,  the  slight  highness  of 
her  shoulders  just  completing  the  exquisite 
arrangement  of  lines  made  by  the  straight, 
supple  back,  the  long,  exquisite  neck,  the 
head,  with  the  hair  cropped  in  short  pale 
curls,  always  drooping  a  little,  except  when 
she  would  suddenly  throw  it  back  and  smile, 
not  at  me,  nor  at  any  one,  nor  at  anything 
that  had  been  said,  but  as  if  she  alone  had 
suddenly  seen  or  heard  something,  with  the 
strange  dimple  in  her  thin,  pale  cheeks,  and 


26  A  PHANTOM  LOVER. 

the  strange  whiteness  in  her  full,  wide-opened 
eyes :  the  moment  when  she  had  something 
of  the  stag  in  her  movement.  But  where  is 
the  use  of  talking  about  her?  I  don't  be- 
lieve, you  know,  that  even  the  greatest 
painter  can  show  what  is  the  real  beauty  of 
a  very  beautiful  woman  in  the  ordinary  sense: 
Titian's  and  Tintoretto's  women  must  have 
been  miles  handsomer  than  they  have  made 
them.  Something — and  that  the  very  essence 
— always  escapes,  perhaps  because  real  beau- 
ty is  as  much  a  thing  in  time — a  thing  like 
music,  a  succession,  a  series — as  in  space. 
Mind  you,  I  am  speaking  of  a  woman  beau- 
tiful in  the  conventional  sense.  Imagine, 
then,  how  much  more  so  in  the  case  of  a 
woman  like  Alice  Oke ;  and  if  the  pencil  and 
brush,  imitating  each  line  and  tint,  can't  suc- 
ceed, how  is  it  possible  to  give  even  the 
vaguest  notion  with  mere  wretched  words — 
words  possessing  only  a  wretched  abstract 
meaning,  an  impotent  conventional  associa- 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER  27 

tion  ?  To  make  a  long  story  short,  Mrs.  Oke 
of  Okehurst  was,  in  my  opinion,  to  the  high- 
est degree  exquisite  and  strange — an  exotic 
creature,  whose  charm  you  can  no  more  de- 
scribe than  you  could  bring  home  the  per- 
fume of  some  newly  -  discovered  tropical 
flower  by  comparing  it  with  the  scent  of  a 
cabbage-rose  or  a  lily. 

That  first  dinner  was  gloomy  enough.  Mr. 
Oke — Oke  of  Okehurst,  as  the  people  down 
there  called  him  —  was  horribly  shy,  con- 
sumed with  a  fear  of  makicg  a  fool  of  himself 
before  me  and  his  wife,  I  then  thought.  But 
that  sort  of  shyness  did  not  wear  off;  and  I 
soon  discovered  that,  although  it  was  doubt- 
less increased  by  the  presence  of  a  total 
stranger,  it  was  inspired  in  Oke,  not  by  me, 
but  by  his  wife.  He  would  look  every  now 
and  then  as  if  he  were  going  to  make  a  re- 
mark, and  then  evidently  restrain  himself, 
and  remain  silent.  It  was  very  curious  to 
see  this  huge,  handsome,  manly  young  fellow, 


28  A  PHANTOM  LOVER 

who  ought  to  have  had  any  amount  of  sus- 
cess  with  women,  suddenly  stammer  and 
grow  crimson  in  the  presence  of  his  own  wife. 
Nor  was  it  the  consciousness  of  stupidity; 
for  when  you  got  him  alone,  Oke,  although 
always  slow  and  timid,  had  a  certain  amount 
of  ideas,  and  very  defined  political  and  social 
views,  and  a  certain  childlike  earnestness  and 
desire  to  attain  certainty  and  truth  which 
was  rather  touching.  On  the  other  hand, 
Oke's  singular  shyness  was  not,  so  far  as  I 
could  see,  the  result  of  any  kind  of  bullying 
on  his  wife's  part.  You  can  always  detect, 
if  you  have  any  observation,  the  husband  or 
the  wife  who  is  accustomed  to  be  snubbed, 
to  be  corrected,  by  his  or  her  better  half; 
there  is  a  consciousness  in  both  parties,  a 
habit  of  watching  and  fault-finding,  of  being 
watched  and  found  fault  with.  This  waa 
clearly  not  the  case  at  Okehurst.  Mrs.  Oke 
evidently  did  not  trouble  herself  about  her 
husband  in  the  very  least;  he  might  say 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER  29 

or  do  any  amount  of  silly  things  without 
rebuke  or  even  notice;  and  he  might  have 
done  so,  had  he  chosen,  ever  since  his  wed- 
ding-day You  felt  that  at  once.  Mrs.  Oke 
simply  passed  over  his  existence.  I  cannot 
say  she  paid  much  attention  to  any  one's, 
even  to  mine.  At  first  I  thought  it  an  affec- 
tation on  her  part — for  there  was  something 
far-fetched  in  her  whole  appearance,  some- 
thing suggesting  study,  which  might  lead 
one  to  tax  her  with  affectation  at  first ;  she 
was  dressed  in  a  strange  way — not  according 
to  any  established  aesthetic  eccentricity,  but 
individually  strangely,  as  if  in  the  clothes  of 
an  ancestress  of  the  seventeenth  century. 
Well,  at  first  I  thought  it  a  kind  of  pose  on 
her  part — the  mixture  of  extreme  gracious- 
ness  and  utter  indifference  which  she  mani- 
fested towards  me.  She  always  seemed  to 
be  thinking  of  something  else ;  and  although 
she  talked  quite  sufficiently,  and  with  every 
sign  of  superior  intelligence,  she  left  the  im- 


30  A  PHANTOM  LOVER. 

pression  of  having  been  as  taciturn  as  her 
husband. 

In  the  beginning,  in  the  first  few  days  of 
my  stay  at  Okehurst,  I  imagined  that  Mrs. 
Oke  was  a  highly  superior  sort  of  flirt; 
and  that  her  absent  manner,  her  look,  while 
speaking  to  you,  into  an  invisible  distance, 
her  curious  irrelevant  smile,  were  so  many 
means  of  attracting  and  baffling  adoration. 
I  mistook  it  for  the  somewhat  similar  man- 
ners of  certain  foreign  women — it  is  beyond 
English  ones — which  mean,  to  those  who 
can  understand,  "  Pay  court  to  me."  But  I 
soon  found  I  was  mistaken.  Mrs.  Oke  had 
not  the  faintest  desire  that  I  should  pay 
court  to  her,  indeed  she  did  not  honor  me 
with  sufficient  thought  for  that;  and  I,  on 
my  part,  began  to  be  too  much  interested  in 
her  from  another  point  of  view  to  dream  of 
such  a  thing.  I  became  aware,  not  merely 
that  I  had  before  me  the  most  marvellously 
rare  and  exquisite  and  baffling  subject  for  a 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  31 

portrait,  but  also  one  of  the  most  peculiar 
and  enigmatic  of  characters.  Now  that  I  look 
back  upon  it,  I  am  tempted  to  think  that 
the  psychological  peculiarity  of  that  woman 
might  be  summed  up  in  an  exorbitant  and 
absorbing  interest  in  herself — a  Narcissus  at- 

O 

titude — curiously  complicated  with  a  fantas- 
tic imagination,  a  sort  of  morbid  day-dream- 
ing, all  turned  inwards,  and  with  no  outer 
characteristic  save  a  certain  restlessness,  a 
perverse  desire  to  surprise  and  shock,  to  sur- 
prise and  shock  more  particularly  her  hus- 
band, and  thus  be  revenged  for  the  intense 
boredom  which  his  presence  evidently  in- 
flicted upon  her. 

I  got  to  understand  this  much  little  by 
little,  yet  I  did  not  seem  to  have  really  pene- 
trated the  something  mysterious  about  Mrs. 
Oke ;  there  was  a  waywardness,  a  strange- 
ness, which  I  felt  but  could  not  explain  —  a 
something  as  difficult  to  define  as  the  pecu- 
liarity of  her  outward  appearance,  and  per- 


82  A  PHANTOM  LOVER 

haps  very  closely  connected  therewith.  I 
became  interested  in  Mrs.  Oke  as  if  I  had 
been  in  love  with  her,  and  I  was  not  in  the 
least  in  love.  I  neither  dreaded  parting 
from  her  nor  felt  any  pleasure  in  her  pres- 
ence. I  had  not  the  smallest  wish  to  please 
or  to  gain  her  notice.  But  I  had  her  on  the 
brain ;  I  pursued  her,  her  physical  image,  her 
psychological  explanation,  with  a  kind  of 
passion  which  filled  my  days,  and  prevented 
my  ever  feeling  dull.  The  Okes  lived  a  re- 
markably solitary  life.  There  were  but  few 
neighbors,  of  whom  they  saw  but  little ;  and 
they  rarely  had  a  guest  in  the  house.  Oke 
himself  seemed  every  now  and  then  seized 
with  a  sense  of  responsibility  towards  me. 
He  would  remark  vaguely,  during  our  walks 
and  after-dinner  chats,  that  I  must  find  life 
at  Okehurst  horribly  dull ;  his  wife's  health 
had  accustomed  him  to  solitude,  and  then, 
also,  his  wife  thought  the  neighbors  a  bore. 
He  never  questioned  his  wife's  judgment  in 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  83 

these  matters.  He  merely  stated  the  case 
as  if  resignation  were  quite  simple  and  in- 
evitable ;  yet  it  seemed  to  me,  sometimes,  that 
this  monotonous  life  of  solitude,  by  the  side 
of  a  woman  who  took  no  more  heed  of  him 
than  of  a  table  or  chair,  was  producing  a 
vague  depression  and  irritation  in  this  young 
man,  so  evidently  cut  out  for  a  cheerful,  com- 
monplace life.  I  often  wondered  how  he 
could  endure  it  at  all,  not  having,  as  I  had, 
the  interest  of  a  strange  psychological  riddle 
to  solve,  and  of  a  great  portrait  to  paint.  He 
was,  I  found,  extremely  good — the  type  of 
the  perfectly  conscientious  young  English- 
man, the  sort  of  man  who  ought  to  have  been 
the  Christian-soldier  kind  of  thing:  devout, 
pure-minded,  brave,  incapable  of  any  base- 
ness, a  little  intellectually  dense,  and  puzzled 
by  all  manner  of  moral  scruples.  The  con- 
dition of  his  tenants  and  of  his  political  par- 
ty—  he  was  a  regular  Kentish  Tory  —  lay 
heavy  on  his  mind.  He  spent  hours  every 


34  A  PHANTOM  LOVER. 

day  in  his  study,  doing  the  work  of  a  land 
agent  and  a  political  whip,  reading  piles  of 
reports  and  newspapers  and  agricultural 
treatises,  and  emerging  for  lunch  with  piles 
of  letters  in  his  hand,  and  that  odd,  puzzled 
look  in  his  good,  healthy  face,  that  deep  gash 
between  his  eyebrows  which  my  friend  the 
mad-doctor  calls  the  maniac-frown.  It  was 
with  this  expression  of  face  that  I  should 
have  liked  to  paint  him ;  but  I  felt  that  he 
would  not  have  liked  it,  that  it  was  more 
fair  to  him  to  represent  him  in  his  more 
wholesome  pink  -  and  •  white  blond  conven- 
tionality. I  was,  perhaps,  rather  uncon- 
scientious  about  the  likeness  of  Mr.  Oke ;  I 
felt  satisfied  to  paint  it  no  matter  how,  I 
mean  as  regards  character,  for  my  whole 
mind  was  swallowed  up  in  thinking  how  I 
should  paint  Mrs.  Oke,  how  I  could  best 
transport  on  to  canvas  that  singular  and 
enigmatic  personality.  I  began  with  her 
husband,  and  told  her  frankly  that  I  must 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  85 

have  much  longer  to  study  her.  Mr.  Oke 
couldn't  understand  why  it  should  be  neces- 
sary to  make  a  hundred  and  one  pencil 
sketches  of  his  wife  before  even  determining 
in  what  attitude  to  paint  her;  but  I  think 
he  was  rather  pleased  to  have  an  opportu- 
nity of  keeping  me  at  Okehnrst — my  presence 
evidently  broke  the  monotony  of  his  life. 
Mrs.  Oke  seemed  perfectly  indifferent  to  my 
staying,  as  she  was  perfectly  indifferent  to 
my  presence.  Without  being  rude,  I  never 
saw  a  woman  pay  so  little  attention  to  a 
guest ;  she  would  talk  with  me  sometimes  by 
the  hour,  or  rather  let  me  talk  to  her,  but 
she  never  seemed  to  be  listening.  She  would 
lie  back  in  a  big  seventeenth-century  arm- 
chair while  I  played  the  piano,  with  that 
strange  smile  every  now  and  then  in  her 
thin  cheeks,  that  strange  whiteness  in  her 
eyes ;  but  it  seemed  a  matter  of  indifference 
whether  my  music  stopped  or  went  on.  In 
my  portrait  of  her  husband  she  did  not  take, 


36  -A  THANTOM  LOVER 

or  pretend  to  take,  the  very  faintest  interest ; 
but  that  was  nothing  to  me.  I  didn't  want 
Mrs.  Oke  to  think  me  interesting ;  I  merely 
wished  to  go  on  studying  her. 

The  first  time  that  Mrs.  Oke  seemed  to  be- 
come at  all  aware  of  my  presence  as  distin- 
guished from  that  of  the  chairs  and  tables, 
the  dogs  that  lay  in  the  porch,  or  the  clergy- 
man or  lawyer  or  stray  neighbor  who  was 
occasionally  asked  to  dinner,  was  one  day — 
I  might  have  been  there  a  week — when  I 
chanced  to  remark  to  her  upon  the  very  sin- 
gular resemblance  that  existed  between  her- 
self and  the  portrait  of  a  lady  that  hung  in 
the  hall  with  the  ceiling  like  a  ship's  hull. 
The  picture  in  question  was  a  full-length, 
neither  very  good  nor  very  bad,  probably 
done  by  some  stray  Italian  of  the  early  sev- 
enteenth century.  It  hung  in  a  rather  dark 
corner,  facing  the  portrait,  evidently  painted 
to  be  its  companion,  of  a  dark  man,  with  a  some- 
what unpleasant  expression  of  resolution  and 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  37 

efficiency,  in  a  black  Vandyck  dress.  The 
two  were  evidently  man  and  wife;  and  in 
the  corner  of  the  woman's  portrait  were  the 
words,  "  Alice  Oke,  daughter  of  Virgil  Pom- 
fret,  Esq.,  and  wife  to  Nicholas  Oke  of  Oke- 
hurst,"and  the  date  1626— "Nicholas  Oke" 
being  the  name  painted  in  the  corner  of  the 
small  portrait.  The  lady  was  really  wonder- 
fully like  the  present  Mrs.  Oke,  at  least  so 
far  as  an  indifferently  painted  portrait  of  the 
early  days  of  Charles  I.  can  be  like  a  living 
woman  of  the  nineteenth  century.  There 
were  the  same  strange  lines  of  figure  and  face, 
the  same  dimples  in  the  thin  cheeks,  the  same 
wide-opened  eyes,  the  same  vague  eccentric- 
ity of  expression,  not  destroyed  even  by  the 
feeble  painting  and  conventional  manner  of 
the  time.  One  could  fancy  that  this  woman 
had  the  same  walk,  the  same  beautiful  line 
of  nape  of  the  neck  and  stooping  head  as  her 
descendant,  for  I  found  that  Mr.  and  Mrs. 
Oke,  who  were  first  cousins,  were  both  de- 


38  A  PHANTOM  LOVER. 

scended  from  that  Nicholas  Oke  and  that 
Alice,  daughter  of  Virgil  Pomfret.  But  the 
resemblance  was  heightened  by  the  fact  that, 
as  I  soon  saw,  the  present  Mrs.  Oke  distinct- 
ly made  herself  up  to  look  like  her  ancestress, 
dressing  in  garments  that  had  a  seventeenth- 
century  look;  nay,  that  were  sometimes  ab- 
solutely copied  from  this  portrait. 

"  You  think  I  am  like  her,"  answered  Mrs. 
Oke,  dreamily,  to  my  remark,  and  her  eyes 
wandered  off  to  that  unseen  something,  and 
the  faint  smile  dimpled  her  thin  cheeks. 

"You  are  like  her,  and  you  know  it.  I 
may  even  say  you  wish  to  be  like  her,  Mrs. 
Oke,"  I  answered,  laughing. 

"Perhaps  I  do." 

And  she  looked  in  the  direction  of  her 
husband.  I  noticed  that  he  had  an  expres- 
sion of  distinct  annoyance  besides  that  frown 
of  his. 

"Isn't  it  true  that  Mrs.  Oke  tries  to  look 
like  that  portrait  ?"  I  asked,  with  a  perverse 
curiosity. 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  89 

"  Oh,  fudge !"  he  exclaimed,  rising  from 
his  chair  and  walking  nervously  to  the  win- 
dow. "It's  all  nonsense,  mere  nonsense.  I 
wish  you  wouldn't,  Alice." 

"Wouldn't  what?"  asked  Mrs.  Oke,  with 
a  sort  of  contemptuous  indifference.  "If  I 
am  like  that  Alice  Oke,  why  I  am ;  and  I 
am  very  pleased  any  one  should  think  so. 
Ske  and  her  husband  are  just  about  the 
only  two  members  of  our  family — our  most 
flat,  stale,  and  unprofitable  family — that  ever 
were  in  the  least  degree  interesting." 

Oke  grew  crimson,  and  frowned  as  if  in 
pain. 

"I  don't  see  why  you  should  abuse  our 
family,  Alice,"  he  said.  "Thank  God,  our 
people  have  always  been  honorable  and  up- 
right men  and  women !" 

O 

"Excepting  always  Nicholas  Oke  and 
Alice  his  wife,  daughter  of  Virgil  Pomfret, 
Esq.,"  she  answered,  laughing,  as  he  strode 
out  into  the  park. 


40  A  PHANTOM  LOVER. 

"How  childish  he  is!"  she  exclaimed, 
when  we  were  alone.  "  He  really  minds, 
really  feels  disgraced  by  what  our  ancestors 
did  two  centuries  and  a  half  ago.  I  do  be- 
lieve William  would  have  those  two  por- 
traits taken  down  and  burned,  if  he  weren't 
afraid  of  me  and  ashamed  of  the  neighbors. 
And  as  it  is,  these  two  people  really  are  the 
only  two  members  of  our  family  that  ever 
were  in  the  least  interesting.  I  will  tell  you 
the  story  some  day." 

As  it  was,  the  story  was  told  to  me  by 
Oke  himself.  The  next  day,  as  we  were 
taking  our  morning  walk,  he  suddenly  broke 
a  long  silence,  laying  about  him  all  the  time 
at  the  sear  grasses  with  the  hooked  stick 
that  he  carried,  like  the  conscientious  Kent- 
ishman  he  was,  for  the  purpose  of  cutting 
down  his  and  other  folks'  thistles. 

"I  fear  you  must  have  thought  me  very 
ill-mannered  towards  my  wife  yesterday," 
he  said,  shyly ;  "  and,  indeed,  I  know  I  was." 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  41 

Oke  was  one  of  those  chivalrous  beings 

O 

to  whom  every  woman,  every  wife — and  his 
own  most  of  all — appeared  in  the  light  of 
something  holy.  "  But — but — I  have  a 
prejudice  which  my  wife  does  not  enter  into, 
about  raking  up  ugly  things  in  one's  own 
family.  I  suppose  Alice  thinks  that  it  is 
so  long  ago  that  it  has  really  got  no  connec- 
tion with  us;  she  thinks  of  it  merely  as  a 
picturesque  story.  I  dare  say  many  people 
feel  like  that ;  in  short,  I  am  sure  they  do, 
otherwise  there  wouldn't  be  such  lots  of 
discreditable  family  traditions  afloat.  But 
I  feel  as  if  it  were  all  one  whether  it  were 
long  ago  or  not;  when  it's  a  question  of 
one's  own  people,  I  would  rather  have  it 
forgotten.  I  can't  understand  how  people 
can  talk  about  murders  in  their  families, 
and  ghosts,  and  so  forth." 

"  Have  you  any  ghosts  at  Okehurst,  by 
the  way  ?"  I  asked.  The  place  seemed  as 
if  it  required  some  to  complete  it. 


43  A  PHANTOM  LOVER. 

"  I  hope  not,"  answered  Oke,  gravely. 

His  gravity  made  me  smile. 

"Why,  would  you  dislike  it  if  there 
were?"  I  asked. 

"If  there  are  such  things  as  ghosts,"  he 
replied,"  I  don't  think  they  should  be  taken 
lightly.  God  would  not  permit  them  to  be, 
except  as  a  warning  or  a  punishment." 

We  walked  on  some  time  in  silence,  I  won- 
dering at  the  strange  type  of  this  common- 
place young  man,  and  half  wishing  I  could 
put  something  into  my  portrait  that  should 
be  the  equivalent  of  this  curious,  unimag- 
inative earnestness.  Then  Oke  told  me  the 
story  of  those  two  pictures  —  told  it  me 
about  as  badly  and  hesitatingly  as  was  pos- 
sible for  mortal  man. 

He  and  his  wife  were,  as  I  have  said,  cous- 
ins, and  therefore  descended  from  the  same 
old  Kentish  stock.  The  Okes  of  Okehurst 
could  trace  back  to  Norman,  almost  to  Saxon 
times,  far  longer  than  any  of  the  titled  or 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  43 

better-known  families  of  the  neighborhood.  I 
saw  that  William  Oke,in  his  heart,  thorough- 
ly looked  down  upon  all  his  neighbors.  "  We 
have  never  done  anything  particular,  or  been 
anything  particular — never  held  any  office," 
he  said;  "but  we  have  always  been  here, 
and  apparently  always  done  our  duty.  An 
ancestor  of  ours  was  killed  in  the  Scotch 
wars,  another  at  Agincourt  —  mere  honest 
captains."  Well,  early  in  the  seventeenth 
century,  the  family  had  dwindled  to  a  single 
member,  Nicholas  Oke,  the  same  who  had 
rebuilt  Okehurst  in  its  present  shape.  This 
Nicholas  appears  to  have  been  somewhat  dif- 
ferent from  the  usual  run  of  the  family.  He 
had,  in  his  youth,  sought  adventures  in 
America,  and  seems,  generally  speaking,  to 
have  been  less  of  a  nonentity  than  his  ances- 
tors. He  married,  when  no  longer  very 
young,  Alice,  daughter  of  Virgil  Pomfret,  a 
beautiful  young  heiress  from  a  neighboring 
county.  "It  was  the  first  time  an  Oke  mar- 


44  A  PHANTOM  LOVER. 

ried  a  Pomfret,"  my  host  informed  me,  "  and 
the  last  time.  The  Pom  frets  were  quite  dif- 
ferent sort  of  people  —  restless,  self-seeking ; 
one  of  them  had  been  a  favorite  of  Henry 
VIII."  It  was  clear  that  William  Oke  had 
no  feeling  of  having  any  Pomfret  blood  in 
his  veins ;  he  spoke  of  these  people  with  an 
evident  family  dislike — the  dislike  of  an  Oke, 
one  of  the  old,  honorable,  modest  stock, 
which  had  quietly  done  its  duty,  for  a  fam- 
ily of  fortune-seekers  and  court  minions. 
Well,  there  had  come  to  live  near  Okehurst, 
in  a  little  house  recently  inherited  from  an 
uncle,  a  certain  Christopher  Lovelock,  a 
young  gallant  and  poet,  who  was  in  mo- 
mentary disgrace  at  court  for  some  love  af- 
fair. This  Lovelock  had  struck  up  a  great 
friendship  with  his  neighbors  of  Okehurst — 
too  great  a  friendship,  apparently,  with  the 
wife,  either  for  her  husband's  taste  or  her 
own.  Anyhow,  one  evening,  as  he  was  rid- 
ing home  alone,  Lovelock  had  been  attacked 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER,  45 

and  murdered,  ostensibly  by  highwaymen, 
but,  as  was  afterwards  rumored,  by  Nicholas 
Oke,  accompanied  by  his  wife  dressed  as  a 
groom.  No  legal  evidence  had  been  got,  but 
the  tradition  had  remained.  "They  used  to 
tell  it  us  when  we  were  children,"  said  my 
host,  in  a  hoarse  voice, "  and  to  frighten  my 
cousin  —  I  mean  my  wife  —  and  me  with 
stories  about  Lovelock.  It  is  merely  a  tradi- 
tion, which  I  hope  may  die  out,  as  I  sincere, 
ly  pray  to  Heaven  that  it  may  be  false." 
"  Alice — Mrs.  Oke — you  see,"  he  went  on  af- 
ter some  time,  "  doesn't  feel  about  it  as  I  do. 
Perhaps  I  am  morbid.  But  I  do  dislike  hav- 
ing the  old  story  raked  up." 

And  we  said  no  more  on  the  subject. 


m. 

FROM  that  moment  I  began  to  assume  a 
certain  interesj;  in  the  eyes  of  Mrs.  Oke ;  or, 
rather,  I  began  to  perceive  that  I  had  a 
means  of  securing  her  attention.  Perhaps  it 
was  wrong  of  me  to  do  so;  and  I  have  often 
reproached  myself  very  seriously  later  on. 
But,  after  all,  how  was  I  to  guess  that  I  was 
making  mischief  merely  by  chiming  in,  for 
the  sake  of  the  portrait  I  had  undertaken, 
and  of  a  very  harmless  psychological  mania, 
with  what  was  merely  the  fad,  the  little  ro- 
mantic affectation  or  eccentricity,  of  a  scat- 
ter-brained and  eccentric  young  woman  ? 
How  in  the  world  should  I  have  dreamed 
that  I  was  handling  explosive  substances? 
A  man  is  surely  not  responsible  if  the  peo- 
ple with  whom  he  is  forced  to  deal,  and 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  47 

whom  he  deals  with  as  with  all  the  rest  of 
the  world,  are  quite  different  from  all  other 
human  creatures. 

So,  if  indeed  I  did  at  all  conduce  to  mis- 
chief, I  really  cannot  blame  myself.  I  had 
met  in  Mrs.  Oke  an  almost  unique  sub- 
ject for  a  portrait -painter  of  any  particular 
sort,  and  a  most  singular,  bizarre  personality. 
I  could  not  possibly  do  my  subject  justice  so 
long  as  I  was  kept  at  a  distance,  prevented 
from  studying  the  real  character  of  the  wom- 
an. I  required  to  put  her  into  play.  And 
I  ask  you  whether  any  more  innocent  way 
of  doing  so  could  be  found  than  talking  to  a 
woman,  and  letting  her  talk,  about  an  absurd 
fancy  she  had  for  a  couple  of  ancestors  of 
hers  of  the  time  of  Charles  I.  and  a  poet 
whom  they  had  murdered? — particularly,  as 
I  studiously  respected  the  prejudices  of  my 
host,  and  refrained  from  mentioning  the  mat- 
ter, and  tried  to  restrain  Mrs.  Oke  from  doing 
so,  in  the  presence  of  William  Oke  himself? 


48  A  PHANTOM  LOVER. 

I  had  certainly  guessed  correctly.  To  re- 
semble the  Alice  Oke  of  the  year  1626  was 
the  caprice,  the  mania,  the  pose,  the  whatever 
you  may  call  it,  of  the  Alice  Oke  of  1880 ; 
and  to  perceive  this  resemblance  was  the  sure 
way  of  gaining  her  good  graces.  It  was  the 
most  extraordinary  craze,  of  all  the  extraor- 
dinary crazes  of  childless  and  idle  women, 
that  I  had  ever  met;  but  it  was  more  than 
that,  it  was  admirably  characteristic.  It  fin- 
ished off  the  strange  figure  of  Mrs.  Oke  as  I 
saw  it  in  my  imagination — this  bizarre  creat- 
ure of  enigmatic,  far-fetched  exquisiteness — 
that  she  should  have  no  interest  in  the  pres- 
ent, but  only  an  eccentric  passion  in  the  past. 
It  seemed  to  give  the  meaning  to  the  absent 
look  in  her  eyes,  to  her  irrelevant  and  far-off 
smile.  It  was  like  the  words  to  a  weird 
piece  of  gypsy  music,  this  that  she,  who  was 
so  different,  so  distant  from  all  women  of  her 
own  time,  should  try  and  identify  herself 
with  a  woman  of  the  past — that  she  should 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  49 

have  a  kind  of  flirtation —  But  of  this 
anon. 

I  told  Mrs,  Oke  that  I  had  learned  from 
her  husband  the  outline  of  the  tragedy,  or 
mystery,  whichever  it  was,  of  Alice  Oke, 
daughter  of  Virgil  Pomfret,  and  the  poet, 
Christopher  Lovelock.  That  look  of  vague 
contempt,*  of  a  desire  to  shock,  which  I  had 
noticed  before,  came  into  her  beautiful,  pale, 
diaphanous  face. 

"  I  suppose  my  husband  was  very  shocked 
at  the  whole  matter,"  she  said — "  told  it  you 
with  as  little  detail  as  possible,  and  assured 
you  very  solemnly  that  he  hoped  the  whole 
story  might  be  a  mere  dreadful  calumny? 
Poor  Willie !  I  remember  already  when  we 
were  children,  and  I  used  to  come  with  my 
mother  to  spend  Christmas  at  Okehurst,  and 
my  cousin  was  down  here  for  his  holidays, 
how  I  used  to  horrify  him  by  insisting  upon 
dressing  up  in  shawls  and  waterproofs,  and 
playing  the  story  of  the  wicked  Mrs.  Oke ; 
4 


50  A  PHANTOM  LOVER. 

and  he  always  piously  refused  to  do  the  part 
of  Nicholas,  when  I  wanted  to  have  the  scene 
on  Cotes  Common.  I  didn't  know  then  that 
I  was  like  the  original  Alice  Oke ;  I  found 
it  out  only  after  our  marriage.  You  really 
think  that  I  am  ?" 

She  certainly  was,  particularly  at  that  mo- 
ment, as  she  stood  in  a  white  Vandyck  dress, 
with  the  green  of  the  park  land  rising  up  be- 
hind her,  and  the  low  sun  catching  her  short 
locks  and  surrounding  her  head,  her  exquis- 
itely bowed  head,  with  a  pale  yellow  halo. 
But  I  confess  I  thought  the  original  Alice 
Oke,  siren  and  murderess  though  she  might 
be,  very  uninteresting  compared  with  this 
wayward  and  exquisite  creature  whom  I  had 
rashly  promised  myself  to  send  down  to 
posterity  in  all  her  unlikely,  wayward  ex- 
quisiteness. 

One  morning  while  Mr.  Oke  was  despatch- 
ing his  Saturday  heap  of  conservative  man- 
ifestoes and  rural  decisions — he  was  justice 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  51 

of  the  peace  in  a  most  literal  sense,  penetrat- 
ing into  cottages  and  huts,  defending  the 
weak  and  admonishing  the  ill -conducted — 
one  morning  while  I  was  making  one  of  my 
many  pencil-sketches  (alas,  they  are  all  that 
remain  to  me  now !)  of  my  future  sitter,  Mrs. 
Oke  gave  me  her  version  of  the  story  of  Alice 
Oke  and  Christopher  Lovelock. 

"Do  you  suppose  there  was  anything  be- 
tween them  ?"  I  asked — "  that  she  was  ever 
in  love  with  him  ?  How  do  you  explain  the 
part  which  tradition  ascribes  to  her  in  the 
supposed  murder  ?  One  has  heard  of  women 
and  their  lovers  who  have  killed  the  hus- 
band ;  but  a  woman  who  combines  with  her 
husband  to  kill  her  lover,  or  at  least  the  man 
who  is  in  love  with  her — that  is  surely  very 
singular."  I  was  absorbed  in  my  drawing, 
and  really  thinking  very  little  of  what  I  was 
saying. 

"  I  don't  know,"  she  answered,  pensively, 
with  that  distant  look  in  her  eyes.  "Alice 


53  A  PHANTOM  LOVER. 

Oke  was  very  proud,  I  am  sure.  She  may 
have  loved  the  poet  very  much,  and  yet  been 
indignant  with  him,  hated  having  to  love 
him.  She  may  have  felt  that  she  had  a  right 
to  rid  herself  of  him,  and  to  call  upon  her 
husband  to  help  her  to  do  so," 

"  Good  heavens !  What  a  fearful  idea !"  I 
exclaimed,  half  laughing.  "  Don't  you  think, 
after  all,  that  Mr.  Oke  may  be  right  in  say- 
ing that  it  is  easier  and  more  comfortable 
to  take  the  whole  story  as  a  pure  inven- 
tion r 

"  I  cannot  take  it  as  an  invention/'  an- 
swered Mrs.  Oke,  contemptuously,  "  because 
I  happen  to  know  that  it  is  true." 

"  Indeed  !"  I  answered,  working  away  at 
my  sketch,  and  enjoying  putting  this  strange 
creature,  as  I  said  to  myself,  through  her 
paces ;  "  how  is  that  ?" 

"How  does  one  know  that  anything  is 
true  in  this  world  T  she  replied,  evasively ; 
"  because  one  does,  because  one  feels  it  to 
be  true,  I  suppose." 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER  53 

And,  with  that  far-off  look  in  her  light 
eyes,  she  relapsed  into  silence. 

"  Have  you  ever  read  any  of  Lovelock's  poe- 
try ?"  she  asked  me  suddenly,  the  next  day. 

"Lovelock?"  I  answered,  for  I  had  forgot- 
ten the  name.  "Lovelock,  who — "  But 
I  stopped,  remembering  the  prejudices  of  my 
host,  who  was  seated  next  to  me  at  table. 

"Lovelock  who  was  killed  by  Mr.  Oke's 
and  my  ancestors." 

And  she  looked  full  at  her  husband,  as  if 
in  perverse  enjoyment  of  the  evident  annoy- 
ance which  it  caused  him. 

"  Alice,"  he  entreated,  in  a  low  voice,  his 
whole  face  crimson,  "  for  mercy's  sake,  don't 
talk  about  such  things  before  the  servants." 

Mrs.  Oke  burst  into  a  high,  light,  rather 
hysterical  laugh,  the  laugh  of  a  naughty 
child. 

"  The  servants !  Gracious  heavens,  do  you 
suppose  they  haven't  heard  the  story  ?  Why, 
it's  as  well  known  as  Okehurst  itself  in  the 


54  A  PHANTOM   LOVER. 

neighborhood.  Don't  they  believe  that 
Lovelock  has  been  seen  about  the  house? 
Haven't  they  all  heard  his  footsteps  in  the 
big  corridor  ?  Haven't  they,  my  dear  Willie, 
noticed  a  thousand  times  that  you  never 
will  stay  a  minute  alone  in  the  yellow  draw- 
ing-room—  that  you  run  out  of  it,  like  a 
child,  if  I  happen  to  leave  you  there  for  a 
minute?" 

True!  How  was  it  I  had  not  noticed 
that  ?  or,  rather,  that  I  only  now  remembered 
having  noticed  it?  The  yellow  drawing- 
room  was  one  of  the  most  charming  rooms 
in  the  house;  a  large,  bright  room,  hung  with 
yellow  damask  and  panelled  with  carvings, 
that  opened  straight  out  on  to  the  lawn,  far 
superior  to  the  room  in  which  we  habitually 
,sat,  which  was  comparatively  gloomy.  This 
time  Mr.  Oke  struck  me  as  really  too  child- 
ish. I  felt  an  intense  desire  to  badger  him. 

"  The  yellow  drawing-room !"  I  exclaimed. 
"Does  this  interesting  literary  character 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  55 

haunt  the  yellow  drawing-room?  Do  tell 
me  about  it  ?  What  happened  there  ?" 

Mr.  Oke  made  a  painful  effort  to  laugh. 

"  Nothing  ever  happened  there,  so  far  as  I 
know,"  he  said,  and  rose  from  the  table. 

"  Really  ?"  I  asked,  incredulously. 

"Nothing  did  happen  there,"  answered 
Mrs.  Oke,  slowly,  playing  mechanically  with 
a  fork,  and  picking  out  the  pattern  of  the 
table-cloth.  "That  is  just  the  extraordinary 
circumstance,  that,  so  far  as  any  one  knows, 
nothing  ever  did  happen  there ;  and  yet  that 
room  has  an  evil  reputation.  No  member 
of  our  family,  they  say,  can  bear  to  sit  there 
alone  for  more  than  a  minute.  You  see, 
William  evidently  cannot." 

"Have  you  ever  seen  or  heard  anything 
strange  there  ?"  I  asked  my  host. 

He  shook  his  head.  "  Nothing,"  he  an- 
swered, curtly,  and  lit  his  cigar. 

"I  presume  you  have  not,"  I  asked,  half 
laughing,  of  Mrs.  Oke,  "since  you  don't  mind 


66  A  PHANTOM  LOVER. 

sitting  in  that  room  for  hours  alone?  How 
do  you  explain  this  uncanny  reputation,  since 
nothing  ever  happened  there  ?" 

"  Perhaps  something  is  destined  to  happen 
there  in  the  future,"  she  answered,  in  her  ab- 
sent voice.  And  then  she  suddenly  added, 
"Suppose  you  paint  my  portrait  in  that 
room  ?" 

Mr.  Oke  suddenly  turned  round.  He  was 
very  white,  and  looked  as  if  he  were  going 
to  say  something,  but  desisted. 

"  Why  do  you  worry  Mr.  Oke  like  that  ?" 
I  asked,  when  he  had  gone  into  his  smoking- 
room  with  his  usual  bundle  of  papers.  "It 
is  very  cruel  of  you,  Mrs.  Oke.  You  ought 
to  have  more  consideration  for  people  who 
believe  in  such  things,  although  you  may 
not  be  able  to  put  yourself  in  their  frame  of 
mind." 

"Who  tells  you  that  I  don't  believe  in 
such  things,  as  you  call  them  ?"  she  answered, 
abruptly. 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER  57 

"  Come,"  she  said,  after  a  minute,  "  I  want 
to  show  you  why  I  believe  in  Christopher 
Lovelock.  Come  with  me  into  the  yellow 


room." 


IV. 

WHAT  Mrs.  Oke  showed  me  in  the  yellow 
room  was  a  large  bundle  of  papers,  some 
printed  and  some  manuscript,  but  all  of  them 
brown  with  age,  which  she  took  out  of  an 
old  Italian  ebony  inlaid  cabinet.  It  took 
her  some  time  to  get  them,  as  a  complicated 
arrangement  of  double  locks  and  false  draw- 
ers had  to  be  put  in  play ;  and,  while  she 
was  doing  so,  I  looked  round  the  room,  in 
which  I  had  been  only  three  or  four  times 
before.  It  was  certainly  the  most  beautiful 
room  in  this  beautiful  house,  and,  as  it  seemed 
to  me  now,  the  most  strange.  It  was  long 
and  low,  with  something  that  made  you  think 
of  the  cabin  of  a  ship,  with  a  great  mullioned 
window  that  let  in,  as  it  were,  a  perspective 
of  the  brownish-green  park  land,  dotted  with 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER  59 

oaks,  and  sloping  upwards  to  the  distant  line 
of  bluish  firs  against  the  horizon.  The  walls 
were  hung  with  flowered  damask,  whose  yel- 
low, faded  to  brown,  united  with  the  reddish 
color  of  the  carved  wainscoting  and  the 
carved  oaken  beams.  For  the  rest,  it  re- 
minded me  more  of  an  Italian  room  than  an 
English  one.  The  furniture  was  Tuscan  of 
the  early  seventeenth  century,  inlaid  and 
carved;  there  were  a  couple  of  faded  alle- 
gorical pictures  by  some  Bolognese  master 
on  the  walls ;  and  in  a  corner,  among  a  stack 
of  dwarf  orange-trees,  a  little  Italian  harp- 
sichord of  exquisite  curve  and  slenderness, 
with  flowers  and  landscapes  painted  upon  its 
cover.  In  a  recess  was  a  shelf  of  old  books, 
mainly  English  and  Italian  poets  of  the 
Elizabethan  time ;  and  close  by  it,  placed 
upon  a  carved  wedding  -  chest,  a  large  and 
beautiful  melon-shaped  lute.  The  panes  of 
the  mullioned  window  were  open,  and  yet 
the  air  seemed  heavy  with  an  indescribable 


60  A  PHANTOM  LOVER 

heady  perfume,  not  that  of  any  growing  flow- 
er, but  like  that  of  old  stuff  that  had  lain  for 
years  among  spices. 

"  It  is  a  beautiful  room !"  I  exclaimed. 
"I  should  awfully  like  to  paint  you  in  it;" 
but  I  had  scarcely  spoken  the  words  when  I 
felt  I  had  done  wrong.  This  woman's  hus- 
band could  not  bear  the  room,  and  it  seemed 
to  me  vaguely  as  if  he  were  right  in  detest- 
ing it. 

Mrs.  Oke  took  no  notice  of  my  exclama- 
tion, but  beckoned  me  to  the  table  where 
she  was  standing  sorting  the  papers. 

"  Look !"  she  said,  "  these  are  all  poems  by 
Christopher  Lovelock;"  and,  touching  the 
yellow  papers  with  delicate  and  reverent  fin- 
gers, she  commenced  reading  some  of  them 
aloud  in  a  slow,  half-audible  voice.  They 
were  songs  in  the  style  of  those  of  Herrick, 
Waller,  and  Drayton,  complaining  for  the 
most  part  of  the  cruelty  of  a  lady  called  Dry- 
ope,  in  whose  name  was  evidently  concealed 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  61 

a  reference  to  that  of  the  mistress  of  Oke- 
hurst.  The  songs  were  graceful,  and  not 
without  a  certain  faded  passion ;  but  I  was 
thinking  not  of  them,  but  of  the  woman  who 
was  reading  them  to  me. 

Mrs.  Oke  was  standing  with  the  brownish- 
yellow  wall  as  a  background  to  her  white 
brocade  dress,  which,  in  its  stiff,  seventeenth- 
century  make,  seemed  but  to  bring  out  more 
clearly  the  slightness,  the  exquisite  supple- 
ness, of  her  tall  figure.  She  held  the  papers 
in  one  hand,  and  leaned  the  other,  as  if  for 
support,  on  the  inlaid  cabinet  by  her  side. 
Her  voice,  which  was  delicate,  shadowy,  like 
her  person,  had  a  curious  throbbing  cadence, 
as  if  she  were  reading  the  words  of  a  melody, 
and  restraining  herself  with  difficulty  from 
singing  it ;  and  as  she  read,  her  long,  slender 
throat  throbbed  slightly,  and  a  faint  redness 
came  into  her  thin  face.  She  evidently  knew 
the  verses  by  heart,  and  her  eyes  were  most- 
ly fixed  with  that  distant  smile  in  them,  with 


62  A  PHANTOM  LOVER. 

which  harmonized  a  constant  tremulous  little 
smile  in  her  lips. 

"  That  is  how  I  would  wish  to  paint  her !" 
I  exclaimed  within  myself;  and  scarcely  no- 
ticed, what  struck  me  on  thinking  over  the 
scene,  that  this  strange  being  read  these 
verses  as  one  might  fancy  a  woman  would 
read  love  verses  addressed  to  herself. 

"Those  are  all  written  for  Alice  Oke — 
Alice,  the  daughter  of  Virgil  Pomfret,"  she 
said,  slowly,  folding  up  the  papers.  "  I  found 
them  at  the  bottom  of  this  cabinet.  Can  you 
doubt  of  the  reality  of  Christopher  Lovelock 
now  ?" 

The  question  was  an  illogical  one,  for  to 
doubt  of  the  existence  of  Christopher  Love- 
lock was  one  thing,  and  to  doubt  of  the  mode 
of  his  death  was  another;  but  somehow  I 
did  feel  convinced. 

"Look,"  she  said,  when  she  had  replaced 
the  poems,  "  I  will  show  you  something  else." 
Among  the  flowers  that  stood  on  the  upper 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER  63 

story  of  her  writing-table — for  I  found  that 
Mrs.  Oke  had  a  writing-table  in  the  yellow 
room — stood,  as  on  an  altar,  a  small,  black, 
carved  frame,  with  a  silk  curtain  drawn  over 
it;  the  sort  of  thing  behind  which  you  would 
have  expected  to  find  a  head  of  Christ  or  of 
the  Virgin  Mary.  She  drew  the  curtain  and 
displayed  a  large-sized  miniature,  represent- 
ing a  young  man,  with  auburn  curls  and  a 
peaked  auburn  beard,  dressed  in  black,  but 
with  lace  about  his  neck,  and  large,  pear- 
shaped  pearls  in  his  ears :  a  wistful,  melan- 
choly face.  Mrs.  Oke  took  the  miniature  re- 
ligiously off  its  stand,  and  showed  me,  written 
in  faded  characters  upon  the  back,  the  name 
"Christopher  Lovelock,"  and  the  date  1626. 

"  I  found  this  in  the  secret  drawer  of  that 
cabinet,  together  with  the  heap  of  poems,"  she 
said,  taking  the  miniature  out  of  my  hand. 

I  was  silent  for  a  minute. 

"  Does — does  Mr.  Oke  know  that  you  have 
got  it  here?"  I  asked;  and  then  wondered 


64  A  PHANTOM  LOVER. 

what  in  the  world  had  impelled  me  to  put 
such  a  question. 

Mrs.  Oke  smiled  that  smile  of  contemptu- 
ous indifference.  "I  have  never  hidden  it 
from  any  one.  If  my  husband  disliked  my 
having  it,  he  might  have  taken  it  away,  I 
suppose.  It  belongs  to  him,  since  it  was 
found  in  his  house." 

I  did  not  answer,  but  walked  mechanical- 
ly towards  the  door.  There  was  something 
heady  and  oppressive  in  this  beautiful  room ; 
something,  I  thought,  almost  repulsive  in  this 
exquisite  woman.  She  seemed  to  me,  sud- 
denly, perverse  and  dangerous. 

I  scarcely  know  why,  but  I  neglected  Mrs. 
Oke  that  afternoon.  I  went  to  Mr.  Oke's 
study,  and  sat  opposite  to  him  smoking  while 
he  was  engrossed  in  his  accounts,  his  reports, 
and  electioneering  papers.  On  the  table, 
above  the  heap  of  paper-bound  volumes  and 
pigeon-holed  documents,  was,  as  sole  orna- 
ment of  his  den,  a  little  photograph  of  his 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  65 

wife,  done  some  years  before.  I  don't  know 
why,  but  as  I  sat  and  watched  him,  with  his 
florid,  honest,  manly  beauty,  working  away 
conscientiously,  with  that  little  perplexed 
frown  of  his,  I  felt  intensely  sorry  for  this 
man. 

But  this  feeling  did  not  last.  There  was 
no  help  for  it ;  Oke  was  not  as  interesting  as 
Mrs.  Oke;  and  it  required  too  great  an  ef- 
fort to  pump  up  sympathy  for  this  normal, 
excellent,  exemplary  young  squire,  in  the 
presence  of  so  wonderful  a  creature  as  his 
wife.  So  I  let  myself  go  to  the  habit  of 
allowing  Mrs.  Oke  daily  to  talk  over  her 
strange  craze,  or  rather  of  drawing  her  out 
about  it.  I  confess  that  I  derived  a  morbid 
and  exquisite  pleasure  in  doing  so :  it  was  so 
characteristic  in  her,  so  appropriate  to  the 
house !  It  completed  her  personality  so  per- 
fectly, and  made  it  so  much  easier  to  con- 
ceive a  way  of  painting  her.  I  made  up  my 
-mind,  little  by  little,  while  working  at  Will- 
5 


66  A  PHANTOM  LOVER 

iam  Oke's  portrait  (he  proved  a  less  easy 
subject  than  I  had  anticipated,  and,  despite 
his  conscientious  efforts,  was  a  nervous,  un- 
comfortable sitter,  silent  and  brooding) — I 
made  up  my  mind  that  I  would  paint  Mrs. 
Oke  standing  by  the  cabinet  in  the  yellow 
room,  in  the  white  Vandyck  dress  copied 
from,  the  portrait  of  her  ancestress.  Mr.  Oke 
might  resent  it,  Mrs.  Oke  even  might  resent 
it ;  they  might  refuse  to  take  the  picture,  to 
pay  for  it,  to  allow  me  to  exhibit ;  they  might 
force  me  to  run  my  umbrella  through  the 
picture.  No  matter.  That  picture  should 
be  painted,  if  merely  for  the  sake  of  having 
painted  it ;  for  I  felt  it  was  the  only  thing  I 
could  do,  and  that  it  would  be  far  away  my 
best  work.  I  told  neither  of  my  resolution, 
but  prepared  sketch  after  sketch  of  Mrs. 
Oke,  while  continuing  to  paint  her  husband. 
Mrs.  Oke  was  a  silent  person,  more  silent 
even  than  her  husband,  for  she  did  not  feel 
bound,  as  he  did,  to  attempt  to  entertain  a 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  67 

guest  or  to  show  any  interest  in  him.  She 
seemed  to  spend  her  life — a  curious,  inactive, 
half-  invalidish  life,  broken  by  sudden  fits 
of  childish  cheerfulness — in  an  eternal  day- 
dream, strolling  about  the  house  and  grounds, 
arranging  the  quantities  of  flowers  that  al- 
ways filled  all  the  rooms,  beginning  to  read 
and  then  throwing  aside  novels  and  books 
of  poetry,  of  which  she  always  had  a  large 
number;  and,  I  believe,  lying  for  hours,  do- 
ing nothing,  on  a  couch  in  that  yellow  draw- 
ing-room, which,  with  her  sole  exception,  no 
member  of  the  Oke  family  had  ever  been 
known  to  stay  in  alone.  Little  by  little  I 
began  to  suspect  and  to  verify  another  ec- 
centricity of  this  eccentric  being,  and  to  un- 
derstand why  there  were  stringent  orders 
never  to  disturb  her  in  that  yellow  room. 

It  had  been  a  habit  at  Okehurst,  as  at  one  or 
two  other  old  English  manor-houses,  to  keep 
a  certain  amount  of  the  clothes  of  each  gen- 
eration, more  particularly  wedding-dresses. 


68  A  PHANTOM  LOVER. 

A  certain  carved  oaken  press,  of  which  Mr. 
Oke  once  displayed  the  contents  to  me,  was 
a  perfect  museum  of  costumes,  male  and  fe- 
male, from  the  early  years  of  the  seven- 
teenth to  the  end  of  the  eighteenth  century 
— a  thing  to  take  away  the  breath  of  a  bric- 
a-brac  collector,  an  antiquary,  or  a  genre 
painter.  Mr.  Oke  was  none  of  these,  and 
therefore  took  but  little  interest  in  the  col- 
lection, save  in  so  far  as  it  interested  his 
family  feeling.  Still,  he  seemed  well  ac- 
quainted with  the  contents  of  that  press. 

He  was  turning  over  the  clothes  for  my 
benefit,  when  suddenly  I  noticed  that  he 
frowned.  I  know  not  what  impelled  me  to 
say,  "  By  the  way,  have  you  any  dresses  of 
that  Mrs.  Oke  whom  your  wife  resembles  so 
much  ?  Have  you  got  that  particular  white 
dress  she  was  painted  in,  perhaps  ?" 

Oke  of  Okehurst  flushed  very  red. 

"  "We  have  it,"  he  answered,  hesitatingly, 
"  but — it  isn't  here  at  present — I  can't  find 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  69 

it.  I  suppose,"  he  blurted  out,  with  an  ef- 
fort, "  that  Alice  has  got  it.  Mrs.  Oke  some- 
times has  the  fancy  of  having  some  of  these 
old  things  down.  I  suppose  she  takes  ideas' 
from  them." 

A  sudden  light  dawned  in  my  mind.  The 
white  dress  in  which  I  had  seen  Mrs.  Oke 
in  the  yellow  room,  the  day  that  she  showed 
me  Lovelock's  verses,  was  not,  as  I  had 
thought,  a  modern  copy ;  it  was  the  original 
dress  of  Alice  Oke,  the  daughter  of  Virgil 
Pomfret — the  dress  in  which,  perhaps,  Chris- 
topher Lovelock  had  seen  her  in  that  very 
room. 

The  idea  gave  me  a  delightful,  picturesque 
shudder.  I  said  nothing.  But  I  pictured 
to  myself  Mrs.  Oke  sitting  in  that  yellow 
room — that  room  which  no  Oke  of  Okehurst 
save  herself  ventured  to  remain  in  alone,  in 
the  dress  of  her  ancestress,  confronting,  as  it 
were,  that  vague,  haunting  something  that 
seemed  to  fill  the  place  —  that  vague  pres« 


70  A  PHANTOM  LOVER. 

ence,  it  seemed  to  me,  of  the  murdered  cava- 
lier poet. 

Mrs.  Oke,  as  I  have  said,  was  extremely 
silent,  as  a  result  of  being  extremely  indif- 
ferent. She  really  did  not  care  in  the  least 
about  anything  except  her  own  ideas  and 
day-dreams,  except  when,  every  now  and 
then,  she  was  seized  with  a  sudden  desire  to 
shock  the  prejudices  or  superstitions  of  her 
husband.  Very  soon  she  got  into  the  way 
of  never  talking  to  me  at  all,  save  about 
Alice  and  Nicholas  Oke,  and  Christopher 
Lovelock;  and  then,  when  the  fit  seized  her, 
she  would  go  on  by  the  hour,  never  asking 
herself  whether  I  were  or  were  not  equally 
interested  in  the  strange  craze  that  fascinated 
her.  It  so  happened  that  I  was.  I  loved 
to  listen  to  her,  going  on  discussing  by  the 
hour  the  merits  of  Lovelock's  poems,  and 
analyzing  her  feelings  and  those  of  her  two 
ancestors.  It  was  quite  wonderful  to  watch 
the  exquisite,  exotic  creature  in  one  of  these 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER  71 

moods,  with  the  distant  look  in  her  gray 
eyes,  and  the  absent  -  looking  smile  in  her 
thin  cheeks,  talking  as  if  she  had  intimately 
known  these  people  of  the  seventeenth  cen- 
tury, discussing  every  minute  mood  of  theirs, 
detailing  every  scene  between  them  and 
their  victim,  talking  of  Alice  and  Nicholas 
and  Lovelock  as  she  might  of  her  most  inti- 
mate friends.  Of  Alice  particularly,  and  of 
Lovelock.  She  seemed  to  know  every  word 
that  Alice  had  spoken,  every  idea  that  had 
crossed  her  mind.  It  sometimes  struck  me 
as  if  she  were  telling  me,  speaking  of  her- 
self in  the  third  person,  of  her  own  feelings 
— as  if  I  were  listening  to  a  woman's  con- 
fidences, the  recital  of  her  doubts,  scruples, 
and  agonies  about  a  living  lover.  For  Mrs. 
Oke,  who  seemed  the  most  self-absorbed  of 
creatures  in  all  other  matters,  and  utterly  in- 
capable of  understanding  or  sympathizing 
with  the  feelings  of  other  persons,  entered 
completely  and  passionately  into  the  feelings 


72  A  PHANTOM  LOVER 

of  this  woman,  this  Alice,  who,  at  some  mo- 
ments, seemed  to  be  not  another  woman,  but 
herself. 

"But  how  could  she  do  it — how  could  she 
kill  the  man  she  cared  for  ?"  I  once  asked  her. 

"Because  she  loved  him  more  than  the 
whole  world !"  she  exclaimed,  and  rising 
suddenly  from  her  chair,  walked  towards 
the  window,  covering  her  face  with  her 
hands. 

I  could  see,  from  the  movement  of  her 
neck,  that  she  was  sobbing.  She  did  not 
turn  round,  but  motioned  me  to  go  away. 

"Don't  let  us  talk  any  more  about  it," 
she  said.  "  I  am  ill  to-day,  and  silly." 

I  closed  the  door  gently  behind  me. 
What  mystery  was  there  in  this  woman's 
life  ?  This  listlessness,  this  strange  self-  en- 
grossment and  stranger  mania  about  people 
long  dead,  this  indifference  and  desire  to  an- 
noy towards  her  husband — did  it  all  mean 
that  Alice  Oke  had  loved  or  still  loved 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  73 

some  one  who  was  not  the  master  of  Oke- 
hurst  ?  And  his  melancholy,  his  preoccupa- 
tion, the  something  about  him  that  told  of 
a  broken  youth — did  it  mean  that  he  knew 
it? 


V. 

THE  following  days  Mrs.  Oke  was  in  a 
condition  of  quite  unusual  good  spirits. 
Some  visitors — distant  relatives — were  ex- 
pected, and  although  she  had  expressed  the 
utmost  annoyance  at  the  idea  of  their  com- 
ing, she  was  now  seized  with  a  fit  of  house- 
keeping activity,  and  was  perpetually  about 
arranging  things  and  giving  orders,  although 
all  arrangements,  as  usual,  had  been  made, 
and  all  orders  given,  by  her  husband. 

William  Oke  was  quite  radiant. 

"If  only  Alice  were  always  well  like 
this !"  he  exclaimed ;  "  if  only  she  would 
take,  or  could  take,  an  interest  in  life,  how 
different  things  would  be!  But,"  he  added, 
as  if  fearful  lest  he  should  be  supposed  to 
accuse  her  in  any  way,  "  how  can  she,  usu- 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  75 

ally,  with  her  wretched  health  ?  Still,  it 
does  make  me  awfully  happy  to  see  her  like 
this." 

I  nodded.  But  I  cannot  say  that  I  really 
acquiesced  in  his  views.  It  seemed  to  me, 
particularly  with  the  recollection  of  yester- 
day's extraordinary  scene,  that  Mrs.  Oke's 
high  spirits  were  anything  but  normal. 
There  was  something  in  her  unusual  activity 
and  still  more  unusual  cheerfulness  that  was 
merely  nervous  and  feverish ;  and  I  had,  the 
whole  day,  the  impression  of  dealing  with  a 
woman  who  was  ill  and  who  would  very 
speedily  collapse. 

Mrs.  Oke  spent  her  day  wandering  from 
one  room  to  another,  and  from  the  garden  to 
the  greenhouse,  seeing  whether  all  were  in  or- 
der, when,  as  a  matter  of  fact,  all  was  always 
in  order  at  Okehurst.  She  did  not  give  me 
any  sitting,  and  not  a  word  was  spoken  about 
Alice  Oke  or  Christopher  Lovelock.  Indeed, 
to  a  casual  observer,  it  might  have  seemed  as 


76  A  PHANTOM  LOVER. 

if  all  that  craze  about  Lovelock  had  com- 
pletely departed,  or  never  existed.  About 
five  o'clock,  as  I  was  strolling  among  the  red- 
brick, round-gabled  outhouses — each  with  its 
armorial  oak — and  the  old-fashioned  spal- 
liered  kitchen  and  fruit  garden,  I  saw  Mrs. 
Oke  standing,  her  hands  full  of  York  and 
Lancaster  roses,  upon  the  steps  facing  the 
stables.  A  groom  was  currycombing  a  horse, 
and  outside  the  coach-house  was  Mr.  Oke's 
little  high- wheeled  cart. 

"  Let  us  have  a  drive !"  suddenly  exclaimed 
Mrs.  Oke,  on  seeing  me.  "  Look,  what  a  beau- 
tiful evening  —  and  look  at  that  dear  little 
cart !  It  is  so  long  since  I  have  driven,  and 
I  feel  as  if  I  must  drive  again.  Come  with 
me.  And  you,  harness  Jim  at  once  and  come 
round  to  the  door." 

I  was  quite  amazed ;  and  still  more  so 
when  the  cart  drove  up  before  the  door,  and 
Mrs.  Oke  called  me  to  accompany  her.  She 
sent  away  the  groom,  and  in  a  minute  we 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  77 

were  rolling  along,  at  a  tremendous  pace, 
along  the  yellow  sand  road,  with  the 
sear  pasture-lands,  the  big  oaks,  on  either 
side. 

I  could  scarcely  believe  my  senses.  This 
woman,  in  her  mannish  little  coat  and  hat, 
driving  a  powerful  young  horse  with  the  ut- 
most skill,  and  chattering  like  a  schoolgirl  of 
sixteen,  could  not  be  the  delicate,  morbid, 
exotic,  hothouse  creature,  unable  to  walk  or 
to  do  anything,  who  spent  her  days  lying 
about  on  couches  in  the  heavy  atmosphere, 
redolent  with  strange  scents  and  associations, 
of  the  yellow  drawing-room.  The  movement 
of  the  light  carriage,  the  cool  draught,  the 
very  grind  of  the  wheels  upon  the  gravel, 
seemed  to  go  to  her  head  like  wine. 

"  It  is  so  long  since  I  have  done  this  sort 
of  thing,"  she  kept  repeating;  "so  long,  so 
long.  Oh,  don't  you  think  it  delightful,  go- 
ing at  this  pace,  with  the  idea  that  at  any 
moment  the  horse  may  come  down  and  we 


78  A  PHANTOM  LOVER 

two  be  killed  ?"  and  she  laughed  her  childish 
laugh,  and  turned  her  face,  no  longer  pale, 
but  flushed  with  the  movement  and  the  ex- 
citement, towards  me. 

The  cart  rolled  on  quicker  and  quicker, 
one  gate  after  another  swinging  to  behind 
us,  as  we  flew  up  and  down  the  little  hills, 
across  the  pasture-lands,  through  the  little 
red-brick  gabled  villages,  where  the  people 
came  out  to  see  us  pass,  past  the  rows  of  wil- 
lows along  the  streams,  and  the  dark-green, 
compact  hop-fields,  with  the  blue  and  hazy 
tree-tops  of  the  horizon  getting  bluer  and 
more  hazy  as  the  yellow  light  began  to 
graze  the  ground.  At  last  we  got  to  an  open 
space,  a  high-lying  piece  of  common-land, 
such  as  is  rare  in  that  ruthlessly  utilized 
country  of  grazing-grounds  and  hop-gardens. 
Among  the  low  hills  of  the  Weald,  it  seemed 
quite  preternaturally  high  up,  giving  a  sense 
that  its  extent  of  flat  heather  and  gorse, 
bound  by  distant  firs,  was  really  on  the  top 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  79 

of  the  world.  The  sun  was  setting  just  op- 
posite, and  its  lights  lay  flat  on  the  ground, 
staining  it  with  the  red  and  black  of  the 
heather,  or  rather  turning  it  into  the  surface 
of  a  purple  sea,  canopied  over  by  a  bank  of 
dark-purple  clouds — the  jetlike  sparkle  of 
the  dry  ling  and  gorse  tipping  the  purple 
like  sunlit  wavelets.  A  cold  wind  swept  in 
our  faces. 

"  What  is  the  name  of  this  place?"  I  asked. 
It  was  the  only  bit  of  impressive  scenery 
that  I  had  met  in  the  neighborhood  of  Oke- 
hurst. 

"  It  is  called  Cotes  Common,"  answered 
Mrs.  Oke,  who  had  slackened  the  pace  of  the 
horse  and  let  the  reins  hang  loose  about  his 
neck.  "It  was  here  that  Christopher  Love- 
lock was  killed." 

There  was  a  moment's  pause;  and  then 
she  proceeded,  tickling  the  flies  from  the 
horse's  ears  with  the  end  of  her  whip,  and 
looking  straight  into  the  sunset,  which  now 


80  A  PHANTOM  LOVER. 

rolled,  a  deep-purple  stream,  across  the  heath 
to  our  feet : 

"  Lovelock  was  riding  home  one  summer 
evening  from  Appledorerwhen,  as  he  had  got 
half-way  across  Cotes  Commonr  somewhere 
about  here  —  for  I  have  always  heard  them 
mention  the  pond  in  the  old  gravel-pits  as 
about  the  place — he  saw  two  men  riding 
towards  him,  in  whom  he  presently  recog- 
nized Nicholas  Oke  of  Okehurst  accompanied 
by  a  groom.  Oke  of  Okehurst  hailed  him, 
and  Lovelock  rode  up  to  meet  him.  'I  am 
glad  to  have  met  you,  Mr.  Lovelock,'  said 
Nicholas,  'because  I  have  some  important 
news  for  you  ;T  and,  so  saying,  he  brought  his 
horse  close  to  the  one  that  Lovelock  was  rid- 
ing, and,  suddenly  turning  round,  fired  off  a 
pistol  at  his  head.  Lovelock  had  time  to 
move,  and  the  bullet,  instead  of  striking  him, 
went  straight  into  the  head  of  his  horse, 
which  fell  beneath  him.  Lovelock,  however, 
had  fallen  in  such  a  way  as  to  be  able  to  ex- 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  81 

tricate  himself  easily  from  his  horse;  and, 
drawing  his  sword,  he  rushed  upon  Oke  and 
seized  his  horse  by  the  bridle.  Oke  quickly 
jumped  off  and  drew  his  sword;  and  in  a 
minute  Lovelock,  who  was  much  the  better 
swordsman  of  the  two,  was  having  the  bet- 
ter of  him.  Lovelock  had  completely  dis- 
armed him,  and  got  his  sword  upon  Oke's 
neck,  crying  out  to  him  that  if  he  would  ask 
forgiveness  he  should  be  spared  for  the  sake 
of  their  old  friendship,  when  the  groom  sud- 
denly rode  up  from  behind,  and  shot  Love- 
lock through  the  back.  Lovelock  fell,  and 
Oke  immediately  tried  to  finish  him  with 
his  sword,  while  the  groom  drew  up  and 
held  the  bridle  of  Oke's  horse.  At  that  mo- 
ment the  sunlight  fell  upon  the  groom's  face, 
and  Lovelock  recognized  Mrs.  Oke.  He  cried 
out,  'Alice,  Alice,  it  is  you  who  have  mur- 
dered me !'  and  died.  Then  Nicholas  Oke 
sprang  into  his  saddle  and  rode  off  with  his 
wife,  leaving  Lovelock  dead  by  the  side  of 
6 


83  A  PHANTOM   LOVER. 

his  fallen  horse.  Nicholas  Oke  had  taken 
the  precaution  of  removing  Lovelock's  purse 
and  throwing  it  into  the  pond,  so  the  mur- 
der was  put  down  to  certain  highwaymen 
who  were  about  in  that  part  of  the  country. 
Alice  Oke  died  many  years  afterwards,  quite 
an  old  woman,  in  the  reign  of  Charles  II. ; 
but  Nicholas  did  not  live  very  long,  and 
shortly  before  his  death  got  into  a  very 
strange  condition,  always  brooding,  and 
sometimes  threatening  to  kill  his  wife.  They 
say  that  in  one  of  these  fits,  just  shortly  be- 
fore his  death,  he  told  the  whole  story  of 
the  murder,  and  made  a  prophecy  that  when 
the  head  of  his  house  and  master  of  Oke- 
hurst  should  marry  another  Alice  Oke,  de- 
scended from  himself  and  his  wife,  there 
should  be  an  end  of  the  Okes  of  Okehurst. 
You  see,  it  seems  to  be  coming  true.  We 
have  no  children,  and  I  don't  suppose  we 
shall  ever  have  any.  I,  at  least,  have  never 
wished  for  them." 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  83 

Mrs.  Oke  paused,  and  turned  her  face  tow- 
ards me  with  the  absent  smile  in  her  thin 
cheeks;  her  eyes  no  longer  had  that  distant 
look — they  were  strangely  eager  and  fixed. 
I  did  not  know  what  to  answer ;  this  woman 
positively  frightened  me.  We  remained  for 
a  moment  in  that  same  place,  with  the  sun- 
light  dying  away  in  crimson  ripples  on  the 
heather,  gilding  the  yellow  banks,  the  black 
waters  of  the  pond,  surrounded  by  thin 
rushes,  and  the  gravel-pits;  while  the  wind 
blew  in  our  faces,  and  bent  the  ragged, 
warped,  bluish  tops  of  the  firs.  Then  Mrs. 
Oke  touched  the  horse,  and  we  went  off  at  a 
furious  pace.  We  did  not  exchange  a  single 
word,  I  think,  on  the  way  home.  Mrs.  Oke 
sat  with  her  eyes  fixed  on  the  reins,  breaking 
the  silence  now  and  then  only  by  a  word  to 
the  horse,  urging  him  to  an  even  more  fu- 
rious pace.  The  people  we  met  along  the 
roads  must  have  thought  that  the  horse  was 
running  away,  unless  they  noticed  Mrs.  Oke's 


84  A  PHANTOM  LOVER 

calm  manner  and  the  look  of  excited  enjoy- 
ment in  her  face.  To  me  it  seemed  that  I 
was  in  the  hands  of  a  mad-woman,  and  I 
quietly  prepared  myself  for  being  upset  or 
dashed  against  a  cart.  It  had  turned  cold, 
and  the  draught  was  icy  in  our  faces  when 
we  got  within  sight  of  the  red  gables  and 
high  chimney-stacks  of  Okehurst.  Mr.  Oke 
was  standing  before  the  door.  On  our  ap- 
proach I  saw  a  look  of  relieved  suspense,  of 
keen  pleasure,  come  into  his  face. 

He  lifted  his  wife  out  of  the  cart  in  his 
strong  arms  with  a  kind  of  chivalrous  ten- 
derness. 

"  I  am  so  glad  to  have  you  back,  darling," 
he  exclaimed — "  so  glad !  I  was  delighted 
to  hear  you  had  gone  out  with  the  cart,  but 
as  you  have  not  driven  for  so  long,  I  was 
beginning  to  be  frightfully  anxious,  dearest. 
Where  have  you  been  all  this  time  ?" 

Mrs.  Oke  had  quickly  extricated  herself 
from  her  husband,  who  had  remained  hold- 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  83 

ing  her,  as  one  might  hold  a  delicate  child 
who  has  been  causing  anxiety.  The  gentle- 
ness and  affection  of  the  poor  fellow  had 
evidently  not  touched  her — she  seemed  al- 
most to  recoil  from  it. 

"I  have  taken  him  to  Cotes  Common," 
she  said,  with  that  perverse  look  which  I 
had  noticed  before,  as  she  pulled  off  her 
driving-gloves.  "It  is  such  a  splendid  old 
place." 

Mr.  Oke  flushed  as  if  he  had  bitten  upon 
a  bad  tooth,  and  the  double  gash  painted 
itself  scarlet  between  his  eyebrows. 

Outside,  the  mists  were  beginning  to  rise, 
veiling  the  park  land  dotted  with  big,  black 
oaks,  and  from  which,  in  the  watery  moon- 
light, rose  on  all  sides  the  eerie  little  cry  of 
the  lambs  separated  from  their  mothers.  It 
was  damp  and  cold,  and  1  shivered, 


VI. 

THE  next  day  Okehurst  was  full  of  people, 
and  Mrs.  Oke,  to  ray  amazement,  was  doing 
the  honors  of  it  as  if  a  houseful  of  com- 
monplace, noisy  young  creatures,  bent  upon 
flirting  and  tennis,  were  her  usual  idea  of 
felicity. 

The  afternoon  of  the  third  day — they 
had  come  for  an  electioneering  ball,  and 
stayed  three  nights — the  weather  changed ; 
it  turned  suddenly  very  cold  and  began  to 
pour.  Every  one  was  sent  indoors,  and 
there  was  a  general  gloom  suddenly  over 
the  company.  Mrs.  Oke  seemed  to  have 
got  sick  of  her  guests,  and  was  listlessly 
lying  back  on  a  couch,  paying  not  the  slight- 
est attention  to  the  chattering  and  piano- 
strumming  in  the  room,  when  one  of  the 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  87 

guests  suddenly  proposed  that  they  should 
play  charades.  He  was  a  distant  cousin  of 
the  Okes,  a  sort  of  fashionable,  artistic  Bo- 
hemian, swelled  out  to  intolerable  conceit 
by  the  amateur-actor  vogue  of  a  season. 

"  It  would  be  lovely,  in  this  marvellous 
old  place,"  he  cried,  "just  to  dress  up,  and 
parade  about,  and  feel  as  if  we  belonged  to 
the  past.  I  have  heard  you  have  a  marvel- 
lous collection  of  old  costumes,  more  or  less, 
ever  since  the  days  of  Noah,  somewhere, 
Cousin  Willie." 

The  whole  party  exclaimed  in  joy  at  this 
proposal.  William  Oke  looked  puzzled  for 
a  moment,  and  glanced  at  his  wife,  who  con- 
tinued to  lie  listless  on  her  sofa. 

"There  is  a  pressful  of  clothes  belong- 
ing to  the  family,"  he  answered,  dubiously, 
apparently  overwhelmed  by  the  desire  to 
please  his  guests ;  "  but — but — I  don't  know 
whether  it's  quite  respectful  to  dress  up  in 
the  clothes  of  dead  people." 


88  A  PHANTOM  LOVER. 

"  Oh,  fiddlestick!"  cried  the  cousin.  "What 
do  the  dead  people  know  about  it?  Be- 
sides," he  added,  with  mock  seriousness,  "I 
assure  you  we  shall  behave  in  the  most 
reverent  way  and  feel  quite  solemn  about  it 
all,  if  only  you  will  give  us  the  key,  old 


man." 


Again  Mr.  Oke  looked  towards  his  wife, 
and  again  met  only  her  vague,  absent  glance. 

"  Very  well,"  he  said,  and  led  his  guests 
up-stairs. 

An  hour  later  the  house  was  filled  with 
the  strangest  crew  and  the  strangest  noises. 
I  had  entered,  to  a  certain  extent,  into  Will- 
iam Oke's  feeling  of  unwillingness  to  let 
his  ancestors'  clothes  and  personality  be 
taken  in  vain ;  but  when  the  masquerade 
was  complete,  I  must  say  that  the  effect  was 
quite  magnificent.  A  dozen  youngish  men 
and  women — those  who  were  staying  in  the 
house  and  some  neighbors  who  had  come 
for  lawn-tennis  and  dinner — were  rigged 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  89 

out,  under  the  direction  of  the  theatrical 
cousin,  in  the  contents  of  that  oaken  press; 
and  I  have  never  seen  a  more  beautiful  sight 
than  the  panelled  corridors,  the  carved  and 
escutcheoned  staircase,  the  dim  drawing- 
rooms  with  their  faded  tapestries,  the  great 
hall  with  its  vaulted  and  ribbed  ceiling, 
dotted  about  with  groups  or  single  figures 
that  seemed  to  have  come  straight  from  the 
past.  Even  William  Oke,  who,  besides  my- 
self and  a  few  elderly  people,  was  the  only 
man  not  masqueraded,  seemed  delighted  and 
fired  by  the  sight.  A  certain  schoolboy  char- 
acter suddenly  came  out  in  him;  and,  find- 
ing that  there  was  no  costume  left  for  him, 
he  rushed  up-stairs  and  presently  returned 
in  the  uniform  he  had  worn  before  his  mar- 
riage. I  thought  I  had  really  never  seen 
so  magnificent  a  specimen  of  the  handsome 
Englishman ;  he  looked,  despite  all  the  mod- 
ern associations  of  his  costume,  more  genu- 
inely old-world  than  all  the  rest,  a  knight 


90  A  PHANTOM  LOVER. 

for  the  Black  Prince  or  Sidney,  with  his  ad- 
mirably regular  features  and  beautiful  fair 
hair  and  complexion.  After  a  minute  even 
the  elderly  people  had  got  costumes  of  some 
sort — dominoes  arranged  at  the  moment,  and 

O  ' 

hoods  and  all  manner  of  'disguises  made  out 

O 

of  pieces  of  old  embroidery  and  Oriental 
stuffs  and  furs;  and  very  soon  this  rabble 
of  maskers  had  become,  so  to  speak,  com- 
pletely drunk  with  its  own  amusement,  with 
the  childishness,  and,  if  I  may  say  so,  the 
barbarism,  the  vulgarity  underlying  the  ma- 
jority even  of  well-bred  English  men  and 
women — Mr.  Oke  himself  doing  the  mounte- 
bank like  a  schoolboy  at  Christmas. 

"  Where  is  Mrs.  Oke  ?  Where  is  Alice  3" 
some  one  suddenly  asked. 

Mrs.  Oke  had  vanished.  I  could  fully  un- 
derstand that  to  this  eccentric  being,  with 
her  fantastic,  imaginative,  morbid  passion 
for  the  past,  such  a  carnival  as  this  must  be 
positively  revolting;  and,  absolutely  indif- 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  91 

ferent  as  she  was  to  giving  offence,  I  could 
imagine  bow  she  would  have  retired,  dis- 
gusted and  outraged,  to  dream  her  strange 
day-dreams  in  the  yellow  room. 

But  a  moment  later,  as  we  were  all  noisily 
preparing  to  go  in  to  dinner,  the  door  opened 
and  a  strange  figure  entered,  stranger  than 
any  of  these  others  who  were  profaning  the 
clothes  of  the  dead :  a  boy,  slight  and  tall, 
in  a  brown  riding-coat,  leathern  belt,  and 
big  buff  boots,  a  little  gray  cloak  over  one 
shoulder,  a  large  gray  hat  slouched  over  the 
eyes,  a  dagger  and  pistol  at  the  waist.  It 
was  Mrs.  Oke,  her  eyes  preter naturally 
bright,  and  her  whole  face  lit  up  with  a 
bold,  perverse  smile. 

Every  one  exclaimed,  and  stood  aside. 
Then  there  was  a  moment's  silence,  broken 
by  faint  applause.  Even  to  a  crew  of  noisy 
boys  and  girls  playing  the  fool  in  the  gar- 
ments of  men  and  women  long  dead  and 
buried,  there  is  something  questionable  in 


92  A  PHANTOM  LOVER. 

the  sudden  appearance  of  a  young  married 
woman,  the  mistress  of  the  house,  in  a  rid- 
ing-coat and  jack-boots;  and  Mrs.  Oke's  ex- 
pression did  not  make  the  jest  seem  any  the 
less  questionable. 

"What  is  that  costume?"  asked  the  the- 
atrical cousin,  who,  after  a  second,  had  come 
to  the  conclusion  that  Mrs.  Oke  was  merely 
a  woman  of  marvellous  talent  whom  he 
must  try  and  secure  for  his  amateur  troop 
next  season. 

"It  is  the  dress  in  which  an  ancestress  of 
ours,  my  namesake,  Alice  Oke,  used  to  go 
out  riding  with  her  husband  in  the  days  of 
Charles  I.,"  she  answered,  and  took  her  seat 
at  the  head  of  the  table.  Involuntarily  my 
eyes  sought  those  of  Oke  of  Okehurst.  He, 
who  blushed  as  easily  as  a  girl  of  sixteen, 
was  now  as  white  as  ashes,  and  I  noticed 
that  he  pressed  his  hand  almost  convulsive- 
ly to  his  mouth. 

"  Don't  you  recognize  my  dress,  William  ?" 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  93 

asked  Mrs.  Oke,  fixing  her  eyes  upon  him 
with  a  cruel  smile. 

He  did  not  answer,  and  there  was  a  mo- 
ment's silence,  which  the  theatrical  cousin 
had  the  happy  thought  of  breaking  by 
jumping  upon  his  seat  and  emptying  off 
his  glass  with  the  exclamation : 

"  To  the  health  of  the  two  Alice  Okes,  of 
the  past  and  the  present !" 

Mrs.  Oke  nodded,  and  with  an  expression 
I  had  never  seen  in  her  face  before,  an- 
swered in  a  loud  and  aggressive  tone — 

"  To  the  health  of  the  poet,  Mr.  Christo- 
pher  Lovelock,  if  his  ghost  be  honoring  this 
house  with  its  presence !" 

I  felt  suddenly  as  if  I  were  in  a  mad- 
house. Across  the  table,  in  the  midst  of 
this  roomful  of  noisy  wretches,  tricked  out, 
in  red,  blue,  purple,  and  parti-color,  as  men 
and  women  of  the  sixteenth,  seventeenth, 
and  eighteenth  centuries,  as  improvised 
Turks  and  Eskimos,  and  dominoes  and 


94  A  PHANTOM  LOVER. 

clowns,  with  faces  painted  and  corked  and 
floured  over,  I  seemed  to  see  that  sanguine 
sunset,  washing  like  a  sea  of  blood  over  the 
heather,  to  where,  by  the  black  pond  and 
the  wind-warped  firs,  was  lying  the  body 
of  Christopher  Lovelock,  with  his  wounded 
horse  near  him,  the  yellow  gravel  and  lilac 
ling  soaked  crimson  all  around ;  and  above 
emerged,  as  out  of  the  redness,  the  pale, 
blond  head  covered  with  the  gray  hat,  the 
absent  eyes,  and  strange  smile  of  Mrs.  Oke. 
It  seemed  to  me  horrible,  vulgar,  abomina- 
ble, as  if  I  ^ad  arot  inside  a  madhouse. 

'  V-* 


VII. 

FROM  that  moment  I  noticed  a  change  in 
William  Oke ;  or,  rather,  a  change  that  had 
probably  been  coming  on  for  some  time  got 
to  the  stage  of  being  noticeable. 

I  don't  know  whether  he  had  any  words 
with  his  wife  about  her  masquerade  of  that 
unlucky  evening.  On  the  whole,  I  decided- 
ly think  not.  Oke  was  with  every  one  a 
diffident  and  reserved  man,  and  most  of  all 
so  with  his  wife ;  besides,  I  can  fancy  that 
he  would  experience  a  positive  impossibility 
of  putting  into  words  any  strong  feeling  of 
disapprobation  towards  her,  that  his  disgust 
would  necessarily  be  silent.  But  be  this  as 
it  may,  I  perceived  very  soon  that  the  rela- 
tions between  my  host  and  hostess  had  be- 
come exceedingly  strained.  Mrs.  Oke,  in- 


96  A  PHANTOM   LOVER. 

deed,  had  never  paid  much  attention  to  her 
husband,  and  seemed  merely  a  trifle  more 
indifferent  to  his  presence  than  she  had 
been  before.  But  Oke  himself,  although  he 
affected  to  address  her  at  meals,  from  a  de- 
sire to  conceal  his  feeling  and  a  fear  of 
making  the  position  disagreeable  to  me, 
very  clearly  could  scarcely  bear  to  speak  to 
or  even  see  his  wife.  The  poor  fellow's 
honest  soul  was  quite  brimful  of  pain,  which 
he  was  determined  not  to  permit  to  over- 
flow, and  which  seemed  to  filter  into  his 
whole  nature  and  poison  it.  This  woman 
had  shocked  and  pained  him  more  than  was 
possible  to  say,  and  yet  it  was  evident  that 
he  could  neither  cease  loving  her,  nor  com- 
mence comprehending  her  real  nature.  I 
sometimes  felt,  as  we  took  our  long  walks 
through  the  monotonous  country,  across  the 
oak -dotted  grazing -grounds,  and  by  the 
brink  of  the  dull -green,  serried  hop-rows, 
talking  at  rare  intervals  about  the  value  of 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  97 

the  crops,  the  drainage  of  the  estate,  the  vil- 
lage schools,  the  Primrose  League,  and  the 
iniquities  of  Mr.  Gladstone,  while  Oke  of 
Okehurst  carefully  cut  down  every  tall  this- 
tle that  caught  his  eye — I  sometimes  felt,  I 
say,  an  intense  and  impotent  desire  to  en- 
lighten this  man  about  his  wife's  character. 
I  seemed  to  understand  it  so  well,  and  to 
understand  it  well  seemed  to  imply  such  a 
comfortable  acquiescence ;  and  it  seemed  so 
unfair  that  just  he  should  be  condemned  to 
puzzle  forever  over  this  enigma,  and  wear 
out  his  soul  trying  to  comprehend  what 
now  seemed  so  plain  to  me.  But  how 
would  it  ever  be  possible  to  make  this  seri- 
ous, conscientious,  slow -brained  representa- 
tive of  English  simplicity  and  honesty  and 
thoroughness  understand  the  mixture  of 
self -engrossed  vanity,  of  shallowness,  of 
poetic  vision,  .of  love  of  morbid  excitement, 
that  walked  this  earth  under  the  name  of 
Alice  Oke? 
7 


98  A  PHANTOM  LOVER. 

So  Oke  of  Okehurst  was  condemned  never 
to  understand ;  but  he  was  condemned  also 
to  suffer  from  his  inability  to  do  so.  The 
poor  fellow  was  constantly  straining  after 
an  explanation  of  his  wife's  peculiarities; 
and,  although  the  effort  was  probably  un- 
conscious, it  caused  him  a  great  deal  of  pain. 
The  gash — the  maniac-frown,  as  my  friends 
call  it  —  between  his  eyebrows  seemed  to 
have  grown  a  permanent  feature  of  his  face. 

Mrs.  Oke,  on  her  side,  was  making  the 
very  worst  of  the  situation.  Perhaps  she 
resented  her  husband's  tacit  reproval  of  that 
masquerade-night's  freak,  and  determined  to 
make  him  swallow  more  of  the  same  stuff, 
for  she  clearly  thought  that  one  of  William's 
peculiarities,  and  one  for  which  she  despised 
him,  was  that  he  could  never  be  goaded 
into  an  outspoken  expression  of  disapproba- 
tion ;  that  from  her  he  would  swallow  any 
amount  of  bitterness  without  complaining. 
At  any  rate,  she  now  adopted  a  perfect  pol- 


A  PHANTOM   LOVER.  99 

icy  of  teasing  and  shocking  her  husband 
about  the  murder  of  Lovelock.  She  was 
perpetually  alluding  to  it  in  her  conversa- 
tion, discussing  in  his  presence  what  had  or 
had  not  been  the  feelings  of  the  various  ac- 
tors in  the  tragedy  of  1626,  and  insisting 
upon  her  resemblance  to,  and  almost  identity 
with,  the  original  Alice  Oke.  Something 
had  suggested  to  her  eccentric  mind  that  it 
would  be  delightful  to  perform  in  the  gar- 
den at  Okehurst,  under  the  huge  ilexes  and 
elms,  a  little  masque  which  she  had  discov- 
ered among  Christopher  Lovelock's  works; 
and  she  began  to  scour  the  country  and  en- 
ter into  vast  correspondence  for  the  purpose 
of  effectuating  this  scheme.  Letters  arrived 
every  other  day  from  the  theatrical  cousin, 
whose  only  objection  was  that  Okehurst 
was  too  remote  a  locality  for  an  entertain- 
ment in  which  he  foresaw  great  glory  to 
himself.  And  every  now  and  then  there 
would  arrive  some  young  gentleman  or 


100  A  PHANTOM  LOVER. 

lady,  whom  Alice  Oke  had  sent  for  to  see 
whether  they  would  do. 

I  saw  very  plainly  that  the  performance 
would  never  take  place,  and  that  Mrs.  Oke 
herself  had  no  intention  that  it  ever  should. 
She  was  one  of  those  creatures  to  whom  re- 
alization of  a  project  is  nothing,  and  who 
enjoy  plan  -  making  almost  the  more  for 
knowing  that  all  will  stop  short  at  the  plan. 
Meanwhile  this  perpetual  talk  about  the 
pastoral,  about  Lovelock,  this  continual  atti- 
tudinizing as  the  wife  of  Nicholas  Oke,  had 
the  further  attraction  to  Mrs.  Oke  of  putting 
her  husband  into  a  condition  of  frightful 
though  suppressed  irritation,  which  she  en- 
joyed with  the  enjoyment  of  a  perverse 
child.  You  must  not  think  that  I  looked 
on  indifferent,  although  I  admit  that  this 
was  a  perfect  treat  to  an  amateur  student 
of  character  like  myself.  I  really  did  feel 
most  sorry  for  poor  Oke,  and  frequently 
quite  indignant  with  his  wife.  I  was  sev- 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  101 

eral  times  on  the  point  of  begging  her  to 
have  more  consideration  for  him,  even  of 
suggesting  that  this  kind  of  behavior,  par- 
ticularly before  a  comparative  stranger  like 
me,  was  very  poor  taste.  But  there  was 
something  elusive  about  Mrs.  Oke,  which 
made  it  next  to  impossible  to  speak  seriously 
with  her;  and,  besides,  I  was  by  no  means 
sure  that  any  interference  on  my  part  would 
not  merely  animate  her  perversity. 

One  evening  a  curious  incident  took  place. 
We  had  just  sat  down  to  dinner,  the  Okes, 
the  theatrical  cousin,  who  was  down  for  a 
couple  of  days,  and  three  or  four  neighbors. 
It  was  dusk,  and  the  yellow  light  of  the 
candles  mingled  charmingly  with  the  gray- 
ness  of  the  evening.  Mrs.  Oke  was  not  well, 
and  had  been  remarkably  quiet  all  day, 
more  diaphanous,  strange,  and  far  away  than 
ever ;  and  her  husband  seemed  to  have  felt 
a  sudden  return  of  tenderness,  almost  of 
compassion,  for  this  delicate,  fragile  creature. 


102  A  PHANTOM  LOVER. 

We  had  been  talking  of  quite  indifferent 
matters,  when  I  saw  Mr.  Oke  suddenly  turn 
very  white,  and  look  fixedly  for  a  moment 
at  the  window  opposite  to  his  seat. 

"Who's  that  fellow  looking  in  at  the 
window,  and  making  signs  to  you,  Alice? 
D — n  his  impudence!"  he  cried,  and,  jump- 
ing up,  ran  to  the  window,  opened  it,  and 
passed  out  into  the  twilight.  We  all  looked 
at  each  other  in  surprise ;  some  of  the  party 
remarked  upon  the  carelessness  of  servants 
in  letting  nasty-looking  fellows  hang  about 
the  kitchen,  others  told  stories  of  tramps 
and  burglars.  Mrs.  Oke  did  not  speak ;  but 
I  noticed  the  curious,  distant-looking  smile 
in  her  thin  cheeks. 

After  a  minute,  William  Oke  came  in, 
his  napkin  in  his  hand.  He  shut  the  win- 
dow behind  him  and  silently  resumed  his 
place. 

u  Well,  who  was  it  ?"  we  all  asked. 

"Nobody.    I — I  must  have  made  a  mis- 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER  103 

take,"  he  answered,  and  turned  crimson, 
while  he  busily  peeled  a  pear. 

"It  was  probably  Lovelock,"  remarked 
Mrs.  Oke,  just  as  she  might  have  said,  "  It 
was  probably  the  gardener,"  but  with  that 
faint  smile  of  pleasure  still  in  her  face.  Ex- 
cept the  theatrical  cousin,  who  burst  into  a 
loud  laugh,  none  of  the  company  had  ever 
heard  Lovelock's  name,  and,  doubtless  imag- 
ining him  to  be  some  natural  appanage  of 
the  Oke  family,  groom  or  farmer,  said  noth- 
ing ;  so  the  subject  dropped. 

From  that  evening  onwards  things  began 
to  assume  a  different  aspect.  That  incident 
was  the  beginning  of  a  perfect  system — a  sys- 
tem of  what  ?  I  scarcely  know  how  to  call  it. 
A  system  of  grim  jokes  on  the  part  of  Mrs. 
Oke,  of  superstitious  fancies  on  the  part  of 
her  husband — a  system  of  mysterious  persecu- 
tions on  the  part  of  some  less  earthly  tenant 
of  Okehurst.  Well,  yes,  after  all,  why  not  ? 
We  have  all  heard  of  ghosts;  had  uncles, 


104  A  PHANTOM  LOVER 

cousins,  grandmothers,  nurses,  who  have  seen 
them ;  we  are  all  a  bit  afraid  of  them  at  the 
bottom  of  our  soul ;  so  why  shouldn't  they 
be  ?  I  am  too  sceptical  to  believe  in  the  im- 
possibility of  anything,  for  my  part.  Besides, 
when  a  man  has  lived  throughout  a  summer 
in  the  same  house  with  a  woman  like  Mrs. 
Oke  of  Okehurst,  he  gets  to  believe  in  the 
possibility  of  a  great  many  improbable 
things,  I  assure  you,  as  a  mere  result  of  be- 
lieving in  her.  And  when  you  come  to 
think  of  it,  why  not?  That  a  weird  creat- 
ure, visibly  not  of  this  earth,  a  reincarnation 
of  a  woman  who  murdered  her  lover  two 
centuries  and  a  half  ago,  that  such  a  creature 
should  have  the  power  of  attracting  about 
her  (being  altogether  superior  to  earthly 
lovers)  the  man  who  loved  her  in  that  pre- 
vious existence,  whose  love  for  her  was  his 
death  —  what  is  there  astonishing  in  that? 
Mrs.  Oke  herself,  I  feel  quite  persuaded,  be- 
lieved or  half  believed  it ;  indeed,  she  very 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  105 

seriously  admitted  the  possibility  thereof, 
one  day  when  I  made  the  suggestion  half  in 
jest.  At  all  events,  it  rather  pleased  me  to 
think  so ;  it  fitted  in  so  well  with  the  wom- 
an's whole  personality;  it  explained  those 
hours  and  hours  spent  all  alone  in  the  yel- 
low room,  where  the  very  air,  with  its  scent 
of  heady  flowers  and  old  perfumed  stuffs, 
seemed  redolent  of  ghosts.  It  explained  that 
strange  smile  which  was  not  for  any  of  us, 
and  yet  was  not  merely  for  herself,  that 
strange,  far-off  look  in  the  wide,  pale  eyes. 
I  liked  the  idea,  and  I  liked  to  tease,  or 
rather  to  delight  her  with  it.  How  should 
I  know  that  the  wretched  husband  would 
take  such  matters  seriously  ? 

He  became  day  by  day  more  silent  and 
perplexed-looking ;  and,  as  a  result,  worked 
harder,  and  probably  with  less  effect,  at  his 
land-improving  schemes  and  political  can- 
vassing. It  seemed  to  me  that  he  was  per- 
petually listening,  watching,  waiting  for 


106  A  PHANTOM  LOVER. 

something  to  happen:  a  word  spoken  sud- 
denly, the  sharp  opening  of  a  door,  would 
make  him  start,  turn  crimson,  and  almost 
tremble ;  the  mention  of  Lovelock  brought  a 
helpless  look,  half  a  convulsion,  like  that  of 
a  man  overcome  by  great  heat,  into  his  face. 
And  his  wife,  so  far  from  taking  any  interest 
in  his  altered  looks,  went  on  irritating  him 
more  and  more.  Every  time  that  the  poor 
fellow  gave  one  of  those  starts  of  his,  or 
turned  crimson  at  the  sudden  sound  of  a 
footstep,  Mrs.  Oke  would  ask  him,  with  her 
contemptuous  indifference,  whether  he  had 
seen  Lovelock.  I  soon  began  to  perceive 
that  my  host  was  getting  perfectly  ill.  He 
would  sit  at  meals  never  saying  a  word,  with 
his  eyes  fixed  scrutinizingly  on  his  wife,  as 
if  vainly  trying  to  solve  some  dreadful  mys- 
tery ;  while  his  wife,  ethereal,  exquisite,  went 
on  talking  in  her  listless  way  about  the 
masque,  about  Lovelock,  always  about  Love- 
lock. During  our  walks  and  rides,  which 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  107 

we  continued  pretty  regularly,  he  would 
start  whenever  in  the  roads  or  lanes  sur- 
rounding Okehurst,  or  in  its  grounds,  we 
perceived  a  figure  in  the  distance.  I  have 
seen  him  tremble  at  what,  on  Dearer  ap- 
proach, I  could  scarcely  restrain  my  laughter 
on  discovering  to  be  some  well-known  farm- 
er or  neighbor  or  servant.  Once,  as  we  were 

O  / 

returning  home  at  dusk,  he  suddenly  caught 
my  arm  and  pointed  across  the  oak-dotted 
pastures  in  the  direction  of  the  garden, 
then  started  off  almost  at  a  run,  with  his 
dog  behind  him,  as  if  in  pursuit  of  some  in- 
truder. 

"Who  was  it?"  I  asked.  And  Mr.  Oke 
merely  shook  his  head  mournfully.  Some- 
times in  the  early  autumn  twilights,  when 
the  white  mists  rose  from  the  park  land,  and 
the  rooks  formed  long  black  lines  on  the 
palings,  I  almost  fancied  I  saw  him  start  at 
the  very  trees  and  bushes,  the  outlines  of  the 
distant  oasthouses,  with  their  conical  roofs 


108  A  PHANTOM  LOVER 

and  projecting  vanes,  like  jibing  fingers  in 
the  half-light. 

"  Your  husband  is  ill,"  I  once  ventured  to 
remark  to  Mrs.  Oke,  as  she  sat  for  the  hun- 
dred and  thirtieth  of  my  preparatory  sketches 
(I  somehow  could  never  get  beyond  prepara- 
tory sketches  with  her).  She  raised  her 
beautiful,  wide,  pale  eyes,  making  as  she  did 
so  that  exquisite  curve  of  shoulders  and 
neck  and  delicate,  pale  head  that  I  so  vainly 
longed  to  reproduce. 

"  I  don't  see  it,"  she  answered,  quietly. 
"  If  he  is,  why  doesn't  he  go  up  to  town  and 
see  the  doctor?  It's  merely  one  of  his  glum 
fits." 

"You  should  not  tease  him  about  Love- 
lock," I  added,  very  seriously.  "  He  will  get 
to  believe  in  him." 

"  Why  not  ?  If  he  sees  him,  why  he  sees 
him.  He  would  not  be  the  only  person  that 
has  done  so ;"  and  she  smiled  faintly  and 
half  perversely,  as  her  eyes  sought  that  usual 
distant,  indefinable  something. 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  109 

But  Oke  got  worse.  He  was  growing  per- 
fectly unstrung,  like  a  hysterical  woman. 
One  evening  that  we  were  sitting  alone  in 
the  smoking-room,  he  began  unexpectedly  a 
rambling  discourse  about  his  wife;  how  he 
had  first  known  her  when  they  were  chil- 
dren, and  they  had  gone  to  the  same  danc- 
ing-school near  Portland  Place;  how  her 
mother,  his  aunt-in-law,  had  brought  her  for 
Christmas  to  Okehurst,  while  he  was  on  his 
holidays;  how  finally,  thirteen  years  ago, 
when  he  was  twenty -three  and  she  was 
eighteen, they  had  been  married;  how  terri- 
bly he  had  suffered  when  they  had  been  dis- 
appointed of  their  baby,  and  she  had  nearly 
died  of  the  illness. 

"I  did  not  mind  about  the  child,  you 
know,"  he  said,  in  an  excited  voice ;  "  al- 
though there  will  be  an  end  of  us  now,  and 
Okehurst  will  go  to  the  Curtises.  I  minded 
only  about  Alice."  It  was  next  to  incon- 
ceivable that  this  poor,  excited  creature, 


110  A  PHANTOM  LOVER 

speaking  almost  with  tears  in  his  voice  and 
in  his  eyes,  was  the  quiet,  well -got -up,  irre- 
proachable young  ex-guardsman  who  had 
walked  into  my  studio  a  couple  of  months 
before. 

Oke  was  silent  for  a  moment,  looking  fix- 
edly at  the  rug  at  his  feet,  when  he  suddenly 
burst  out,  in  a  scarce  audible  voice — 

"  If  you  knew  how  I  cared  for  Alice — how 
I  still  care  for  her!  I  could  kiss  the  ground 
she  walks  upon.  I  would  give  anything — 
my  life  any  day — if  only  she  would  look  for 
two  minutes  as  if  she  liked  me  a  little — as  if 
she  didn't  utterly  despise  me ;"  and  the  poor 
fellow  burst  into  a  hysterical  laugh,  which 
was  almost  a  sob.  Then  he  suddenly  began 
to  laugh  outright,  exclaiming,  with  a  sort  of 
vulgarity  of  intonation  which  was  extremely 
foreign  to  him — 

"D — n  it,  old  fellow,  this  is  a  queer  world 
we  live  in  !"  and  rang  for  more  brandy-and- 
soda,  which  he  was  beginning,  I  noticed,  to 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  Ill 

take  pretty  freely  now,  although  he  had  been 
almost  a  blue-ribbon  man — as  much  so  as  is 
possible  for  a  hospitable  country  gentleman 
— when  I  first  arrived. 


YIII. 

IT  became  clear  to  me  now  that,  incredi- 
ble as  it  might  seem,  the  thing  that  ailed 
William  Oke  was  jealousy.  He  was  simply 
madly  in  love  with  his  wife,  and  madly 
jealous  of  her.  Jealous  —  but  of  whom? 
He  himself  would  probably  have  been  quite 
unable  to  say.  In  the  first  place — to  clear 
off  any  possible  suspicion — certainly  not  of 
me.  Besides  the  fact  that  Mrs.  Oke  took 
only  just  a  very  little  more  interest  in  me 
than  in  the  butler  or  the  upper-housemaid, 
I  think  that  Oke  himself  was  the  sort  of 
man  whose  imagination  would  recoil  from 
realizing  any  definite  object  of  jealousy,  even 
though  jealousy  might  be  killing  him  inch 
by  inch.  It  remained  a  vague,  permeating, 
continuous  feeling — the  feeling  that  he  loved 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER  113 

her,  and  she  did  not  care  a  jackstraw  about 
him,  and  that  everything  with  which  she 
came  into  contact  was  receiving  some  of  that 
notice  which  was  refused  to  him — every  per- 
son or  thing,  or  tree  or  stone:  it  was  the 
recognition  of  that  strange,  far-off  look  in 
Mrs.  Oke's  eyes,  of  that  strange,  absent 
smile  on  Mrs.  Oke's  lips — eyes  and  lips 
that  had  no  look  and  no  smile  for  him. 

Gradually  his  nervousness,  his  watchful- 
ness, suspiciousness,  tendency  to  start,  took 
a  definite  shape.  Mr.  Oke  was  forever  al- 
luding to  steps  or  voices  he  had  heard,  to 
figures  he  had  seen  sneaking  round  the 
house.  The  sudden  bark  of  one  of  the  dogs 
would  make  him  jump  up.  He  cleaned  and 
loaded  very  carefully  all  the  guns  and  re- 
volvers in  his  study,  and  even  some  of  the 
old  fowling-pieces  and  holster-pistols  in  the 
hall.  The  servants  and  tenants  thought 
that  Oke  of  Okehurst  had  been  seized 
with  a  terror  of  tramps  and  burglars.  Mrs. 
8 


114  A  PHANTOM  LOVER. 

Oke  smiled  contemptuously  at  all  these 
doings. 

"My  dear.  William,"  she  said,  one  day, 
"the  persons  who  worry  you  have  just  as 
good  a  right  to  walk  up  and  down  the  pas- 
sages and  staircase,  and  to  hang  about  the 
house,  as  you  or  I.  They  were  there,  in  all 
probability,  long  before  either  of  us  was 
born,  and  are  greatly  amused  by  your  pre- 
posterous notions  of  privacy." 

Mr.  Oke  laughed,  angrily.  "I  suppose 
you  will  tell  me  it  is  Lovelock — your  eter- 
nal Lovelock — whose  steps  I  hear  on  the 
gravel  every  night.  I  suppose  he  has  as 
good  a  right  to  be  here  as  you  or  I."  And 
he  strode  out  of  the  room. 

"  Lovelock — Lovelock !  Why  will  she  al- 
ways go  on  like  that  about  Lovelock  ?"  Mr. 
Oke  asked  me  that  evening,  suddenly  staring 
me  in  the  face. 

I  merely  laughed. 

"It's  only  because  she  has  that  play  of 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  115 

his  on  the  brain,"  I  answered ;  "  and  be- 
cause she  thinks  you  superstitious,  and  likes 
to  tease  you." 

"  I  don't  understand,"  sighed  Oke. 

How  could  he?  And  if  I  had  tried  to 
make  him  do  so,  he  would  merely  have 
thought  I  was  insulting  his  wife,  and  have 
perhaps  kicked  me  out  of  the  room.  So  I 
made  no  attempt  to  explain  psychological 
problems  to  him,  and  he  asked  me  no  more 
questions  until  once —  But  I  must  first 
mention  a  curious  incident  that  happened. 

The  incident  was  simply  this.  Returning 
one  afternoon  from  our  usual  walk,  Mr.  Oke 
suddenly  asked  the  servant  whether  any  one 
had  come.  The  answer  was  in  the  negative; 
but  Oke  did  not  seem  satisfied.  We  had 
hardly  sat  down  to  dinner  when  he  turned 
to  his  wife  and  asked,  in  a  strange  voice 
which  I  scarcely  recognized  as  his  own,  who 
had  called  that  afternoon. 

"No  one,"  answered  Mrs.  Oke ;  "  at  least 
to  the  best  of  my  knowledge." 


116  A  PHANTOM  LOVER. 

William  Oke  looked  at  her  fixedly. 

"No  one?"  he  repeated,  in  a  scrutinizing 
tone ;  "  no  one,  Alice  ?" 

Mrs.  Oke  shook  her  head.  "  No  one,"  she 
replied. 

There  was  a  pause. 

"  Who  was  it,  then,  that  was  walking  with 
you  near  the  pond,  about  five  o'clock  ?"  asked 
Oke,  slowly. 

His  wife  lifted  her  eyes  straight  to  his 
and  answered,  contemptuously, 

"No  one  was  walking  with  me  near  the 
pond,  at  five  o'clock  or  any  other  hour." 

Mr.  Oke  turned  purple,  and  made  a  curi- 
ous, hoarse  noise,  like  a  man  choking. 

"I — I  thought  I  saw  you  walking  with  a 
man  this  afternoon,  Alice,"  he  brought  out 
with  an  effort;  adding,  for  the  sake  of  ap- 
pearances before  me,  "I  thought  it  might 
have  been  the  curate,  come  with  that  report 
for  me." 

Mrs.  Oke  smiled. 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER  117 

f. ,. 

"  I  can  only  repeat  that  no  living  creature 
has  been  near  me  this  afternoon,"  she  said, 
slowly.  "  If  you  saw  any  one  with  me,  it 
must  have  been  Lovelock,  for  there  certainly 
was  no  one  else," 

And  she  gave  a  little  sigh,  like  a  person 
trying  to  reproduce  in  her  mind  some  de- 
lightful but  too  evanescent  impression. 

I  looked  at  my  host;  from  crimson  his 
face  had  turned  perfectly  livid,  and  he 
breathed  as  if  some  one  were  squeezing  his 
windpipe. 

No  more  was  said  about  the  matter.  I 
vaguely  felt  that  a  great  danger  was  threat- 
ening. To  Oke  or  to  Mrs,  Oke?  I  could 
not  tell  which ;  but  I  was  aware  of  an  im- 
perious inner  call  to  avert  some  dreadful 
evil,  to  exert  myself,  to  explain,  to  interpose. 
I  determined  to  speak  to  Oke  the  following 
day,  for  I  trusted  him  to  give  me  a  quiet 
hearing,  and  I  did  not  trust  Mrs.  Oke.  That 
woman  would  slip  through  my  fingers  like 


118  A  PHANTOM  LOVER\ 

a  snake  if  I  attempted  to  grasp  her  elusive 
character. 

I  asked  Oke  whether  he  would  take  a 
walk  with  me  the  next  afternoon,  and  he 
consented  to  do  so  with  a  curious  eagerness. 
We  started  about  three  o'clock.  It  was  a 
stormy,  chilly  afternoon,  with  great  balls  of 
white  clouds  rolling  rapidly  in  the  cold, 
blue  sky,  and  occasional  lurid  gleams  of 
sunlight,  broad  and  yellow,  which  made  the 
black  ridge  of  the  storm,  gathered  on  the 
horizon,  look  blue-black  like  ink. 

We  walked  quickly  across  the  sear  and 
sodden  grass  of  the  park,  and  on  to  the  high- 
road that  led  over  the  low  hills,  I  don't 
know  why,  in  the  direction  of  Cotes  Com- 
mon. Both  of  us  were  silent,  for  both  of 
us  had  something  to  say,  and  did  not  know 
how  to  begin.  For  my  part,  I  recognized 
the  impossibility  of  starting  the  subject:  an 
uncalled-for  interference  from  me  would 
merely  indispose  Mr.  Oke,  and  make  him 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  119 

doubly  dense  of  comprehension.  So,  if  Oke 
had  something  to  say,  which  he  evidently 
had,  it  was  better  to  wait  for  him. 

Oke,  however,  broke  the  silence  only  by 
pointing  out  to  me  the  condition  of  the 
hops,  as  we  passed  one  of  his  many  hop- 
gardens. "It  will  be  a  poor  year,"  he  said, 
stopping  short  and  looking  intently  before 
him — "no  hops  at  all.  No  hops  this  au- 
tumn." 

I  looked  at  him.  It  was  clear  that  he  had 
no  notion  what  he  was  saying.  The  dark- 
green  vines  were  covered  with  fruit;  and 
only  yesterday  he  himself  had  informed  me 
that  he  had  not  seen  such  a  profusion  of 
hops  for  many  years. 

I  did  not  answer,  and  we  walked  on.  A 
cart  met  us  in  a  dip  of  the  road,  and  the 
carter  touched  his  hat  and  greeted  Mr.  Oke. 
But  Oke  took  no  heed;  he  did  not  seem  to 
be  aware  of  the  man's  presence. 

The  clouds  were  collecting  all  round — 


120  A  PHANTOM  LOVER 

black  domes,  among  which  coursed  the 
round,  gray  masses  of  fleecy  stuff, 

"  I  think  we  shall  be  caught  in  a  tremen- 
dous storm,"  I  said ;  "  hadn't  we  better  be 
turning?"  He  nodded,  and  turned  sharp 
round. 

The  sunlight  lay  in  yellow  patches  under 
the  oaks  of  the  pasture-lands,  and  burnished 
the  green  hedges.  The  air  was  heavy,  and 
yet  cold,  and  everything  seemed  preparing 
for  a  great  storm.  The  rooks  whirled  in 
black  clouds  round  the  trees  and  the  coni- 
cal red  caps  of  the  oasthonses  which  give 
that  county  the  look  of  being  studded  with 
turreted  castles;  then  they  descended — a 
black  line  —  upon  the  fields,  with  what 
seemed  an  unearthly  loudness  of  caw.  And 
all  round  there  arose  a  shrill,  quavering 
bleating  of  lambs  and  calling  of  sheep, 
while  the  wind  began  to  catch  the  topmost 
branches  of  the  trees. 

Suddenly  Mr.  Oke  broke  the  silence. 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  121 

"  I  don't  know  you  very  well,"  he  began, 
hurriedly,  and  without  turning  his  face 
towards  me;  "but  I  think  you  are  honest, 
and  you  have  seen  a  good  deal  of  the  world 
— much  more  than  I.  I  want  you  to  tell 
me — but  truly,  please — what  do  you  think 
a  man  should  do  if — "  and  he  stopped  for 
some  minutes. 

"Imagine,"  he  went  on  quickly,  "that  a 
man  cares  a  great  deal — a  very  great  deal 
for  his  wife,  and  that  he  finds  out  that  she 
— well,  that  —  that  she  is  deceiving  him. 
No  —  don't  misunderstand  me  —  I  mean  — 
that  she  is  constantly  surrounded  by  some 
one  else  and  will  not  admit  it- — some  one 
whom  she  hides  away.  Do  you  understand  ? 
Perhaps  she  does  not  know  all  the  risk  she 
is  running,  you  know,  but  she  will  not  draw 
back  —  she  will  not  avow  it  to  her  hus- 
band—" 

"My  dear  Oke,"  I  interrupted,  attempt- 
ing to  take  the  matter  lightly,  "these  are 


122  A  PHANTOM  LOVER. 

questions  that  can't  be  solved  in  the  ab- 
stract, or  by  people  to  whom  the  thing  has 
not  happened.  And  it  certainly  has  not 
happened  to  you  or  me." 

Oke  took  no  notice  of  my  interruption. 
"  You  see,"  he  went  on,  "  the  man  doesn't 
expect  his  wife  to  care  much  about  him. 
It's  not  that;  he  isn't  merely  jealous,  you 
know.  But  he  feels  that  she  is  on  the  brink 
of  dishonoring  herself — because  I  don't 
think  a  woman  can  really  dishonor  her  hus- 
band ;  dishonor  is  in  our  own  hands,  and 
depends  only  on  our  own  acts.  He  ought 
to  save  her,  do  you  see  ?  He  must,  must 
save  her  in  one  way  or  another.  But  if 
she  will  not  listen  to  him,  what  can  he  do? 
Must  he  seek  out  the  other  one,  and  try  and 
get  him  out  of  the  way  ?  You  see  it's  all 
the  fault  of  the  other — not  hers,  not  hers. 
If  only  she  would  trust  in  her  husband,  she 
would  be  safe.  But  that  other  one  won't 
let  her." 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  123 

"  Look  here,  Oke,"  I  said  boldly,  but  feel- 
ing rather  frightened;  "I  know  quite  well 
what  you  are  talking  about.  And  I  see  you 
don't  understand  the  matter  in  the  very  least. 
I  do.  I  have  watched  you  and  watched 
Mrs.  Oke  these  six  weeks,  and  I  see  what 
is  the  matter.  Will  you  listen  to  me?" 

And,  taking  his  arm,  I  tried  to  explain  to 
him  my  view  of  the  situation — that  his  wife 
was  merely  eccentric,  and  a  little  theatrical 
and  imaginative,  and  that  she  took  a  pleas- 
ure in  teasing  him.  That  he,  on  the  other 
hand,  was  letting  himself  get  into  a  morbid 
state ;  that  he  was  ill,  and  ought  to  see  a 
good  doctor.  I  even  offered  to  take  him  to 
town  with  me. 

I  poured  out  volumes  of  psychological  ex- 
planations. I  dissected  Mrs.  Oke's  character 
twenty  times  over,  and  tried  to  show  him 
that  there  was  absolutely  nothing  at  the 
bottom  of  his  suspicions  beyond  an  imagina- 
tive pose  and  a  garden-play  on  the  brain.  I 


134  A  PHANTOM  LOVER. 

adduced  twenty  instances,  mostly  invented 
for  the  nonce,  of  ladies  of  my  acquaintance 
who  had  suffered  from  similar  fads.  I 
pointed  out  to  him  that  his  wife  ought  to 
have  an  outlet  for  her  imaginative  and  the- 
atrical over-energy.  I  advised  him  to  take 
her  to  London  and  plunge  her  into  some  set 
where  every  one  should  be  more  or  less  in 
a  similar  condition.  I  laughed  at  the  no- 
tion of  there  being  any  hidden  individual 
about  the  house.  I  explained  to  Oke  that 
he  was  suffering  from  delusions,  and  called 
upon  so  conscientious  and  religious  a  man 
to  take  every  step  to  rid  himself  of  them, 
adding  innumerable  examples  of  people  who 
had  cured  themselves  of  seeing  visions  and 
of  brooding  over  morbid  fancies.  I  strug- 
gled and  wrestled,  like  Jacob  with  the  angel, 
and  I  really  hoped  I  had  made  some  im- 
pression. At  first,  indeed,  I  felt  that  not 
one  of  my  words  went  into  the  man's  brain 
— that,  though  silent,  he  was  not  listening. 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  123 

It  seemed  almost  hopeless  to  present  my 
views  in  such  a  li<rht.that  he  could  grasp 
them.  I  felt  as  it'  I  were  expounding  and 
arguing  at  a  rock.  But  when  I  got  on  to 
the  tack  of  his  duty  towards  his  wife  and 
himself,  and  appealed  to  his  moral  and  re- 
ligious notions,  I  felt  that  I  was  making  an 
impression. 

"  I  dare  say  you  are  right,"  he  said,  taking 
my  hand  as  we  came  in  sight  of  the  red 
gables  of  Okehurst,  and  speaking  in  a  weak, 
tired,  humble  voice.  "I  don't  understand 
you  quite,  but  I  am  sure  what  you  say  is 
true.  I  dare  say  it  is  all  that  I'm  seedy.  I 
feel  sometimes  as  if  I  were  mad,  and  just  fit 
to  be  locked  up.  But  don't  think  I  don't 
struggle  against  it.  I  do,  I  do  continually, 
only  sometimes  it  seems  too  strong  for  me. 
I  pray  God  night  and  morning  to  give  me 
the  strength  to  overcome  my  suspicions,  or 
to  remove  these  dreadful  thoughts  from  me. 
God  knows,  I  know  what  a  wretched  creat- 


126  A  PHANTOM  LOVER. 

ure  I  am,  and  how  unfit  to  take  care  of  that 
poor  girl." 

And  Oke  again  pressed  iny  hand.  As 
we  entered  the  garden,  he  turned  to  me  once 
more. 

"  I  am  very,  very  grateful  to  you,"  he  said, 
"and,  indeed,  I  will  do  my  best  to  try  and 
be  stronger.  If  only,"  he  added,  with  a 
sigh,  "  if  only  Alice  would  give  me  a  mo- 
ment's breathing  time,  and  not  go  on,  day 
after  day,  mocking  me  with  her  Lovelock." 


IX. 

I  HAD  begun  Mrs.  Oke's  portrait,  and  she 
was  giving  me  a  sitting.  She  was  unusu- 
ally quiet  that  morning;  but,  it  seemed  to 
me,  with  the  quietness  of  a  woman  who  is 
expecting  something,  and  she  gave  me  the 
impression  of  being  extremely  happy.  She 
had  been  reading,  at  my  suggestion,  the 
"  Vita  Nuova,"  which  she  did  not  know  be- 
fore, and  the  conversation  came  to  turn  upon 
that,  and  upon  the  question  whether  love  so 
abstract  and  so  enduring  were  a  possibility. 
Such  a  discussion,  which  might  have  savored 
of  flirtation  in  the  case  of  almost  any  other 
young  and  beautiful  woman,  became  in  the 
case  of  Mrs.  Oke  something  quite  different ; 
it  seemed  distant,  intangible,  not  of  this 
earth,  like  her  smile  and  the  look  in  her  eyes. 


128  A  PHANTOM   LOVER. 

"Such  love  as  that,"  she  said,  looking  into 
the  far  distance  of  the  oak-dotted  park  land, 
"  is  very  rare,  but  it  can  exist.  It  becomes 
a  person's  whole  existence,  his  whole  soul ; 
and  it  can  survive  the  death,  not  merely  of 
the  beloved,  but  of  the  lover.  It  is  unex- 
tinguishable,  and  goes  on  in  the  spiritual 
world  until  it  meet  a  reincarnation  of  the 
beloved;  and  when  this  happens,  it  jets  out 
and  draws  to  it  all  that  may  remain  of  that 
lover's  soul,  and  takes  shape  and  surrounds 
the  beloved  one  once  more." 

Mrs.  Oke  was  speaking  slowly,  almost  to 
herself,  and  I  had  never,  I  think,  seen  her 
look  so  strange  and  so  beautiful,  the  stiff 
white  dress  bringing  out  but  the  more  the 
exotic  exquisiteuess  and  incorporealness  of 
her  person. 

I  did  not  know  what  to  answer,  so  I  said, 
half  in  jest, 

"  I  fear  you  have  been  reading  too  much 
Buddhist  literature,  Mrs.  Oke.  There  is 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  129 

something    dreadfully    esoteric   in   all   you 

say." 

She  smiled  contemptuously. 

"  I  know  people  can't  understand  such 
matters,"  she  replied,  and  was  silent  for  some 
time.  But,  through  her  quietness  and  si- 
lence, I  felt,  as  it  were,  the  throb  of  a  strange 
excitement  in  this  woman,  almost  as  if  I  had 
been  holding  her  pulse. 

Still,  I  was  in  hopes  that  things  might  be 
beginning  to  go  better,  in  consequence  of  my 
interference.  Mrs.  Oke  had  scarcely  once 
alluded  to  Lovelock  in  the  last  two  or  three 
days ;  and  Oke  had  been  much  more  cheer- 
ful and  natural  since  our  conversation.  He 
no  longer  seemed  so  worried ,  and  once  or 

O  f 

twice  I  had  caught  in  him  a  look  of  great 
gentleness  and  loving  kindness,  almost  of 
pity,  as  towards  some  young  and  very  frail 
thing,  as  he  sat  opposite  his  wife. 

But  the  end  had  come.    After  that  sitting 
Mrs.  Oke  had  complained  of  fatigue,  and  re- 
9 


130  A  PHANTOM  LOVER. 

tired  to  her  room;  and  Oke  had  driven  off 
on  some  business  to  the  nearest  town.  I 
felt  all  alone  in  the  big  house,  and  after  hav- 
ing worked  a  little  at  a  sketch  I  was  mak- 
ing in  the  park,  I  amused  myself  rambling 
about  the  house. 

It  was  a  warm,  enervating,  autumn  after- 
noon ;  the  kind  of  weather  that  brings  the 
perfume  out  of  everything,  the  damp  ground 
and  fallen  leaves,  the  flowers  in  the  jars,  the 
old  woodwork  and  stuffs ;  that  seems  to 
bring  on  t6  the  surface  of  one's  consciousness 
all  manner  of  vague  recollections  and  expec- 
tations, a  something  half  pleasurable,  half 
painful,  that  makes  it  impossible  to  do  or  to 
think.  I  was  the  prey  of  this  particular,  not 
at  all  unpleasurable,  restlessness.  I  wan- 
dered up  and  down  the  corridors,  stopping 
to  look  at  the  pictures,  which  I  knew  already 
in  every  detail,  to  follow  the  pattern  of  the 
carving  and  old  stuffs,  to  stare  at  the  au- 
tumn flowers,  arranged  in  magnificent  masses 


A  PHANTOM  LOVER.  131 

of  color  in  the  big  china  bowls  and  jars.  I 
took  up  one  book  after  another  and  threw 
it  aside ;  then  I  sat  down  to  the  piano  and 
began  to  play  irrelevant  fragments.  I  felt 
quite  alone,  although  I  had  heard  the  grind 
of  the  wheels  on  the  gravel  which  meant 
that  my  host  had  returned.  I  was  lazily 
turning  over  a  book  of  verses — I  remember 
it  perfectly  well,  it  was  Morris's  "  Love  is 
Enough  " — in  a  corner  of  the  drawing-room, 
when  the  door  suddenly  opened  and  William 
Oke  showed  himself.  He  did  not  enter,  but 
beckoned  to  me  to  come  out  to  him.  There 
was  something  in  his  face  that  made  me  start 
up  and  follow  him  at  once.  He  was  extreme- 
ly quiet,  even  stiff,  not  a  muscle  of  his  face 
moving,  but  very  pale. 

"  I  have  something  to  show  you,"  he  said, 
leading  me  through  the  vaulted  hall,  hung 
round  with  ancestral  pictures,  into  the 
gravelled  space  that  looked  like  a  filled-up 
moat,  where  stood  the  big,  blasted  oak,  with 


132  A  PHANTOM  LOVER. 

its  twisted,  pointing  branches.  I  followed 
him  on  to  the  lawn,  or  rather  the  piece  of 
park  land  that  ran  up  to  the  house.  We 
walked  quickly,  he  in  front,  without  ex- 
changing a  word.  Suddenly  he  stopped,  just 
where  there  jutted  out  the  bow-window  of 
the  yellow  drawing-room,  and  I  felt  Oke's 
hand  tight  upon  my  arm. 

"I  have  brought  you  here  to  see  some- 
thing," he  whispered,  hoarsely;  and  he  led 
me  to  the  window.  " 

I  looked  in.  The  room,  compared  with 
out-doors,  was  rather  dark ;  but  against  the 
yellow  wall  I  saw  Mrs.  Oke  sitting  alone 
on  a  couch  in  her  white  dress,  her  head 
slightly  thrown  back,  a  large  red  rose  in  her 
hand. 

"Do  you  believe  now?"  whispered  Oke's 
voice  hot  at  my  ear.  "  Do  you  believe  now  ? 
Was  it  all  my  fancy?  But  I  will  have  him 
this  time.  I  have  locked  the  door  inside, 
and,  by  Heaven  !  he  shaVt  escape !" 


A  PHANTOM   LOVER  133 

The  words  were  not  out  of  Oke's  mouth. 
I  felt  myself  struggling  with  him  silently 
outside  that  window.  But  he  broke  loose, 
pulled  open,  the  window,  and  leaped  into  the 
room,  and  I  after  him,  As  I  crossed  the 
threshold,  something  flashed  in  my  eyes; 
there  was  a  loud  report,  a  sharp  cry,  and  the 
thud  of  a  body  on  the  ground. 

Oke  was  standing  in  the  middle  of  the 
room,  with  a  faint  smoke  about  him ;  and  at 
his  feet,  sunk  down  from  the  sofa,  with  her 
blond  head  resting  on  its  seat,  lay  Mrs.  Oke, 
a  pool  of  red  forming  in  her  white  dress. 
Her  mouth  was  convulsed,  as  if  in  that  auto- 
matic shriek,  but  her  wide-open,  white  eyes 
seemed  to  smile  vaguely  and  distantly. 

I  know  nothing  of  time.  It  all  seemed 
to  be  one  second,  but  a  second  that  lasted 
hours.  Oke  stareu,  then  turned  round  and 
laughed. 

"  The  d d  rascal  has  given  me  the  slip 

again !"  he  cried  ;  and  quickly  unlocking  the 


134  A  PHANTOM  LOVER. 

door,  rushed  out  of  the  house  with  dreadful 
cries. 

That  is  the  end  of  the  story,  Oke  tried 
to  shoot  himself  that  evening,  but  merely 
fractured  his  jaw,  and  died  a  few  days  later, 
raving.  There  were  all  sorts  of  legal  in- 
quiries, through  which  I  went  as  through  a 
dream;  and  whence  it  resulted  that  Mr.  Oke 
had  killed  his  wife  in  a  fit  of  momentary 
madness.  That  was  the  end  of  Alice  Oke. 
By  the  way,  her  maid  brought  me  a  locket 
which  was  found  round  her  .neck,  all  stained 
with  blood.  It  contained  some  very  dark 
auburn  hair,  not  at  all  the  color  of  William 
Oke's.  I  am  quite  sure  it  was  Lovelock's. 


THE   END. 


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